While the mayors of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills shared primarily positive updates about their respective communities during Friday’s “State of the Cities” event, they were also frank about the challenges ahead.
The annual luncheon, sponsored by the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, also honored Roy and Maureen Jones of All Horizons Travel as recipients of this year’s Walter and Marie Singer Award. Honorees reflect the values of the late couple, who were prominent in both the business and volunteer communities.
Los Altos ‘doing OK’
Speaking to a full house at Fremont Hills Country Club in Los Altos Hills, Los Altos Mayor Megan Satterlee noted that on the surface, the city’s fiscal picture appears solid. Its midyear budget report showed revenues $1.3 million to $3.5 million over expenditures.
However, Satterlee reported that 12 staff positions remain unfilled and raised a red flag over how capital improvements are not accounted for in the general budget.
“We’re not doing fantastic, we’re only doing OK,” she said.
The 12 frozen positions, she added, account for more than 10 percent of the city’s workforce. This, she said, is happening at a time when projects and demands for services are at an all-time high.
In addition, increased costs to the city will come from employee retirement benefits, mandated stormwater drainage improvements and an aging infrastructure.
Satterlee said property-tax revenue, the city’s main source of income, should increase 9.3 percent – approximately $12 million – this year. Sales-tax revenue is at its highest since 2007 – an estimated $3 million. But with the city receiving 1 cent for every dollar of sales, Satterlee said it is not a major source of revenue.
She said downtown zoning changes allowed more development at a time when construction in neighboring communities had leveled off.
“All of these changes have not been embraced as wonderful and great,” Satterlee said, but receiving such feedback “is a good conversation to have.”
To encourage discussion, Satterlee said she will host a downtown walking tour in the fall during which residents can discuss their views on heights, setbacks and other elements of downtown zoning.
Los Altos Hills focuses on infrastructure
Los Altos Hills Mayor John Radford saluted recent town achievements, such as the town assuming management of West- wind Community Barn earlier this year. He also pointed to a $100,000 investment in upgrades to the facility’s lower arena.
But Radford mentioned the “dark clouds” ahead. Fiscally, he said, the town government receives only 5 percent from its property taxes, compared with 12 percent in Los Altos.
“We need to always be careful about how we spend our money,” he said.
In recent years, residents have asked the town to maintain streets that had previously been private.
“Last year, much to our surprise, we found out we had 16 more public roads than we thought we had,” Radford said. “Our council is going to have to start making major investments in infrastructure.”
Radford also addressed a potential $150 million Los Altos School District bond measure in November. He urged Bullis Charter School and the district to find a solution to their facilities dispute before voters consider approving a bond measure.