City administrator says time to spend is now

City officials argue that increased spending would not only preclude the use of tarps like the one on city hall’s roof, but also help Los Altos maintain value and attract staff.

Hired in late 2016, Los Altos’ new administrative services director told city councilmembers last month that they should seize the opportunity to rebuild the city.

“The time is now,” Sharif Etman said at the Feb. 28 council meeting. “If you don’t spend this money, year over year, you are actually losing value. That is an important point.”

Etman emphasized that his proposal does not mean spending money for the sake of spending money, but rather taking advantage of Los Altos’ present financial situation.

“My No. 1 priority is the integrity and the stewardship of our funds,” he said. “We have a very, very, healthy reserve that is probably in the top 5 percent of all cities in California.”

Etman presented a mid-year financial update last month, noting that his goal is to update a 10-year plan to put Los Altos on a forward footing.

“In the next 10 years, we’ll have about $60 million,” he said. “That is because we can add $30 million to the $28 million we already have.”

In a report Etman submitted to the council, he highlighted how the hot real estate market has given the city expanded opportunities.

“The 2016/17 budget for property tax is $2 million higher than the prior year to reflect significant increases in property values experienced by the City,” Etman’s report stated.

After the meeting, Etman explained his logic in detail.

“What I have learned since beginning here in Los Altos is that through proper fiscal stewardship in the past by the city and council, we now are in very good financial shape,” he said. “Our infrastructure needs significant improvements and renovations. … I also firmly believe this will help retain and recruit excellent staff, especially in such a competitive market here in the Bay Area.”

Infrastructure spending

Spending on infrastructure is important, Etman said, because the public goods are valuable. In addition, money simply sitting in the bank won’t produce interest commensurate with the rising cost of labor and materials in booming Silicon Valley. Spending deferred becomes spending increased.

“The time is now to spend on our infrastructure, for the money we have in the bank and invested has a low rate of return compared to the cost of inflation, the cost of goods and the increase in construction costs and labor year over year,” Etman said. “Our purchasing power decreases over time if we have multimillion-dollar projects to complete.”

Etman said he looks forward to beginning several projects, and his office is awaiting the go-ahead from councilmembers at upcoming meetings.

“Clear direction and commitment from our council on our priorities for Los Altos, I believe, is key to moving forward,” he said. “I know staff is anxious and ready to help council reach our goals.”

At least one member of the council agreed. Councilwoman Jan Pepper said she supported infrastructure maintenance.

“I support the infrastructure funding, as we need to properly maintain our city’s assets,” she said. “Getting a 10-year financial model completed, that shows how we plan our spending to maintain these assets, goes hand-in-hand with this so that we properly budget for our infrastructure needs over the next few years.”

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