Los Altos Hills residents invited to steer budget priorities

The Los Altos Hills City Council and Finance and Investment Committee convened Thursday for a joint study session reviewing the town’s proposed budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Members of the two bodies forecast town revenue to reach $9.88 million, leaving the town with a balanced budget and a $550,000 surplus to add to the current $13 million general fund.

Since fiscal year 2015-2016, when the town marked $9 million in revenue, there’s been a “nice gradual upward trend” in revenue dollars largely thanks to property taxes, said Dave Sherwood, administrative services director.

With the final iteration of the budget slated for approval at the June 20 city council meeting, council members encouraged residents to make themselves heard then as well as during the weeks leading up to the meeting.

“Residents can still come and talk about items they wish to see funded, which could include smoothing our rising garbage rates, our sewer fees, additional road improvements, sewer improvements or improving our sheriff’s contract,” said Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan.

The current budget proposal includes general fund expenditures of $3.66 million for town personnel, $1.7 million for public safety and $837,000 for operations. Funding earmarked for the anticipated town hall expansion is noticeably absent; there are no plans to engage in construction in the coming year, and the project’s first steps largely involve staff time as employees prepare to navigate the town’s rigorous planning process, according to City Manager Carl Cahill.

When funds for the expansion are needed, they would likely come from the “facilities and equipment” or “unassigned” portions of the general fund reserves projected by June 30, 2020, $2.5 million and $5 million, respectively. Pension ($2.6 million), operating contingency ($2.1 million) and disaster contingency ($1.3 million) reserves make up the remainder of the $13.5 million pie.

Additional capital expenditures this coming year include $1.4 million for road maintenance and another $1.1 million for sewer system rehabilitation. Those figures represent a 6.67% decrease and a 37.5% increase over last fiscal year’s figures, respectively.

The city council is proposing spending approximately $393,000 on pathway projects, though debate concerning which ones council members should prioritize led them to delay designating them last week. Residents are divided as well; approximately half of the 100 or so letters and emails residents dispatched to the council in anticipation of Thursday’s meeting express support for funding new pathway construction and half urge against it.

“I am writing this letter to let you know I support the completion of the Robleda-La Paloma Pathway,” read one version of a form letter sent by pathway supporters. “In addition to providing additional recreational trails close to downtown, it will help keep children, bicyclists, horse riders, and all residents off of our increasingly busy streets.”

“Please do not approve any funding for pathways in unresolved areas,” read a version of the opposition’s message.

Town staff members are expected to provide detailed information about potential pathway projects – including the controversial Robleda Road-La Paloma Road connector – at the June council meeting as a supplement to the budget presentation.

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