The addition of four staff positions in the Tax Apportionment Unit of the County Controller's Office is good news for Mountain View-Los Altos Union High District's budget planners.
County Supervisor Joe Simitian describes it as the second step in eliminating the type of snafu that found the school district faced with an unexpected budget shortfall of more than $300,000 for the 1996-97 school year.
The shortfall occurred when the County Controller's office was unable to provide the school district with accurate final figures for property tax revenues prior to completion of the district's budgeting process in June 1996.
In mid-October, the Controller's Office advised the county Office Education that property taxes had been adjusted down $10.9 million for schools. This translated to a $303,468 overpayment to Mountain View-Los Altos, which needed to be repaid to the county. The problem was accentuated because, as one of four basic aid districts in the county, Mountain View-Los Altos gets no help from the state for any shortfalls.
In January, representatives from Mountain View-Los Altos, as well as from Palo Alto, Los Gatos-Saratoga, and Fremont Union School districts, met with Joe Simitian, county supervisor for District 5, to seek solutions. The other three basic aid districts had budget shortfalls similar to Mountain View-Los Altos.
The internal audit resulting from this January meeting found that the controller's Tax Apportionment Unit had lost key staff, had inadequate training for staff replacements, and was understaffed in comparison to units in cities of a similar size and tax complexity.
"This unit does calculations for more than 100 entities. Our study showed there were simply not enough people for the job," Simitian said. "The four new staff positions basically double the size of the unit." The internal audit also showed that technology was outdated.
"It was upsetting to learn that the tax collector's and the tax assessor's computers couldn't communicate with each other," Simitian said. "Our next step is to bring the controller's computer system into the 21st century."
Simitian estimated it will take one to two years and expenditures of between one and two million dollars for the needed hardware, software and training.
Meanwhile, Mountain View-Los Altos returned half of the $303,468 overpayment to the county in December 1996. The balance will be repaid in December 1997.
"Things are a little tight as a result, but basically we're OK," said Bob Golton, Mountain View-Los Altos assistant superintendent for business services.