FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions...?
Over the years working in a single industry (25 years in local government) one accumulates a perspective on FAQs. I've seen the same FAQs from community to community in different variations. The FAQs range from the educational inquiry on the how and why of things to the specific issue on the when and where of things. While the landscape changes from one place to the next some of the same issues resonate across that change.
Here are a few categorized below that I thought might be of interest to the more than 1200 subscribers to the City Manager's Blog.
What's the relationship between the Town and the local schools?
The Town has 4 Public School Districts operating in Town and 3 Private School/College (School Districts
). The Public School Districts are separate legal entities from the Town. Essentially they are their own governments. The bad part about what that means is that the Town does not control their operations, the campuses, or their regulations. In fact, school districts are exempt from local regulation almost in their entirety. They are not required (under State law) to come to the Town for building permits, zoning approval, or other regulatory measure of control for any activity reasonably connected to school use and function (i.e. they do not have to comply with our General Plan). They are regulated by the State. If, however, the activity is a purely private activity on the campus, the Town can get involved. For private schools, it's different. They are required to comply with local regulations. The Town manages permits, zoning, and land use at private schools.
The Town has a very positive relationship with our public and private schools. The Town tasks one of our patrol officers as a School Resource Officer. The Officer's task is to foster a positive relationship with the schools, faculty, and student population for better information, engagement, and resources.
The Town has an annual School Meeting whereby members of the school faculty meet with the Town to discuss local issues such as traffic, safe routes to school, education programs, awareness programs, and other campus needs. There are many issues that get addressed every day connected to our local schools and many more that need more attention.
We encourage our local schools, both public and private, to be good neighbors and to foster good relations with the community. We support them in these endeavors and hope that together, issues can be addressed positively and proactively.
The Public School District receives their revenue from a variety of sources, to include local bond measures and property taxes. The Town does not contribute to the school district from our annual budget. Private schools receive their funding from a variety of sources, to include tuition, grants, and other bequests. The Town does not contribute to the private schools from our annual budget.
What's the relationship between the Town and the Fire District?
The Town receives its fire services from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District
. The District
is a separate legal entity from the Town that provides services to portions of East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and all of Atherton. The District has a separately elected Board of Directors for which any Atherton resident may run. Revenue to the District comes from local property taxes. Atherton residents pay approximately 16 cents of every property tax dollar to fire services via their basic 1% property tax. Based on the assessed valuation of properties in Atherton in 2014, Atherton residents paid approximately $12.6 million toward fire services for the Town. The Town itself does not contribute via the Town's budget to the Fire District. If fire services were not provided by the Fire District, the Town would be required to provide fire services either directly or under contract with another agency (County, Menlo Park, Redwood City, or other Fire District). If the Town were not a part of the District and were required to provide fire services separately, the property taxes collected and remitted to the District would instead flow to the Town directly (although the amount may be different).
The Town has a very positive relationship with the District and the District supports many local Town activities and events. The Fire District and City Council meet jointly once a year to discuss mutual policy issues within each agency's jurisdiction.
What's the relationship between the Town and the local water and sewer agencies?
Similar to the Fire District, the local water and sewer agencies are separate legal entities: California Water Service Company
and Fair Oaks or West Bay Sanitary
for sewer. Revenue to these agencies is via local property tax collections or use/connection fees.
The Town does not regulate or control the activities, rates, or capital projects of these agencies. Each have separately elected boards for which any Atherton resident may run. The Town does not contribute to the local water and sewer agencies from our local budget - other than to pay our basic water and sewer rates for our use.
What about the Town and the Library?
Ah, this one is much more interesting. The San Mateo County Library
(SMCL) is a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) that is comprised of several cities within the County, including Atherton and the County. The Board for the JPA is made up of a City Council representative from each agency and a County Supervisor. Under the JPA Agreement, services are provided to the member agencies by the County. Thinking of it as distributed services, our library is technically a County annex library serving not only Atherton, but areas around Atherton as well. In fact, the Atherton Library service area is approximately 5 square miles reaching nearly 12,000-13,000 people.
Revenue is another story. A much longer one. Revenue to the Library dates back to the early 1900s and the addition of the library tax. The average tax rate for the San Mateo County Library is 3.2 cents for every property tax dollar collected - coming from that 1% basic property tax rate. Our library receives about $2-$2.5 million per year in revenue from property taxes (depending on local assessed valuation). However, the Library costs about $1 million per year to operate (at its current level). The Town has been saving the difference for several years now - it is this savings that is paying for the new library as part of the Town's civic center. With the new library, it is estimated that the annual operating costs will increase, but the Town will still be faced with surplus funds to save for future library projects and development. The Town is working with the Library JPA to discuss the future disposition of those funds.
As with the Fire District, the Town could exit the Library JPA and provide services independently. In doing so, those local property tax dollars would come directly to the Town (solely for Library services) instead of the County. There are pros and cons of that option and it is not a solution that the Town would enter into without significant public discussion.
Let's talk trash....what about my garbage rates? Who sets those?
Refuse services, like the Library, are provided jointly via a separate Joint Powers Authority (JPA) Agreement. RethinkWaste, also known as the South Bayside Waste Management Authority
(SBWMA), is a twelve member public agency, including Atherton and the County. The governing board is an elected official from each member agency Council. The SBWMA then contracts with Recology and South Bay Recycling to complete the mission.
Revenues are provided by rate-payers and not the local agency members. Rates are set by the local agency City Councils at a level sufficient to provide the local services (compost, waste, and recycling). Sometimes the rates are too low and the difference has to be made up by the agency or via rate increases. Sometimes the rates are too high and the agency ends up with a rate stabilization fund designed to capture the surplus and apply it to future rates.
Over the years, Atherton has attempted to stabilize local refuse rates for our residents. The Council has adjusted the rate structure in a manner designed to recapture the basic cost while still providing a cushion to allow the ebb and flow of actual costs (based more on the market - revenue markets for sale of recyclables and/or landfill tipping fees or fuel costs) without significantly impacting local rates. Rates are set by the City Council on a semi-regular basis after collection costs are more definitive. The rates are set at a Public Hearing at a regular City Council meeting.
Okay, so two cats walk into Town...one has a license and the other doesn't - who's in charge?
That's an easy one. The Peninsula Humane Society
. Since 1952, San Mateo County has contracted with the Peninsula Humane Society for animal control services (field and sheltering services). All 20 cities in the County, including Atherton, have in turn contracted with the County for these services.
Mostly because of the State-mandated minimum service level requirements, the cost for the Town to provide the services independently is too high. Presently, the Town pays $52,000 per year for basic animal control services and another approximately $5,500 per year as part of a zero-interest payment for constructing a new County animal shelter.
Rail / Rail Station / Caltrain
I see them working on the historic rail station, what’s happening there?
The Town has been very vocal with Caltrain
in an effort to get them to maintain the Atherton Station in a proper manner. The Town does not own or maintain the Station. The property it sits upon and the station itself is owned, operated, and maintained by Caltrain (separate legal entity).
Over the years, the condition of the Station has deteriorated. While the station is not on the historic records, it is considered "historic" by the Town. Presently, Caltrain has hired a contractor to assess the condition of the Station and make appropriate repairs. The window frames must be specially ordered and the wood must be specially milled. Temporary repairs are being put into place while waiting for receipt of the speciality items. The Station is getting a fresh coat of paint and being generally cleaned up.
The Town's Rail Committee discusses the Station frequently at their meetings and may make separate recommendations to the City Council for consideration of its maintenance, ownership, and condition.
Are they ever bringing daily rail service back to Atherton?
They (Caltrain) have said they would. It was a commitment given as part of the Environmental Report for Electrification. They have committed to returning basic daily service to the Town of Atherton. For some that's interpreted to mean a regular, hourly schedule throughout the entire week. For others that's interpreted to be much more vague and flexible - such as two trains (one each way) in the morning and two trains at night. Caltrain holds the cards in this game and there are pros and cons of the return of full service to the Atherton Station - train noise, the need for a set of quad gates at the Watkins crossing, parking, etc.
So, yes - they have committed to bringing daily service back to the Station - the question remains, however, when and how much.
Is the Town suing Caltrain?
Yes. The Town presently has an active legal action against Caltrain for the Environmental Impact Report on Electrification. Some of the issues raised are the study of alternative train technologies, quad gates at Watkins, service to and condition of the Atherton Station, and others. A legal action against an Environmental Impact Report provides the agency the opportunity to apply more environmental study and focus to issues raised in the legal action; however, it does not represent a legal action to stop the project.
The Town hopes to resolve the issues at play in the legal action in a timely manner.
Energy and Green Building/Resources
Are there ever going to be any public use electric vehicle charging stations in Town?
I'm so glad you asked! The Town is presently completing a grant application to consider the installation of electric vehicle charging stations at a couple of parking spots in the Park and at the Caltrain station here at the Civic Center. There are different types of charging stations that the Town can consider - basic level, quick charge, etc. There are grant opportunities out there that will assist with the installation. Beyond the stations themselves, the Town must provide electricity runs to the locations, dedicated parking spots, and a methodology for fee.
I would like to underground utilities along my frontage, can that be done?
Yes. That was the easy part. Making it happen is a bit more complicated. The Town has access to what are called Rule 20A funds
. Essentially, these are funds collected by PG&E (separate legal entity regulated by the State Public Utilities Commission not the Town) from ratepayers (you). The Town accumulates these funds over time and can use them on projects in the community that are most used by the general public. This is typically interpreted to be major roadway areas or civic center areas through the Town. The Council must determine that the funds can be allocated based on one or more of the following criteria:
- undergrounding will avoid or eliminate an unusually heavy concentration of overhead facilities;
- the street or road or right-of-way is extensively used by the general public (heavy pedestrian or vehicular traffic)
- the street or road or right-of-way adjoins or passes through a civic area or public recreation area of general public interest
- the street or road or right-of-way is considered an arterial street or major collector.
That, as I said, is the easy part. PG&E allocates approximately $25,000 per year to the Town under Rule 20A. The Town has accumulated just over a $1 million. That amount will underground about 1/4-1/2 a mile of non-high-voltage utility lines. That's not much. The Town is considering use of these funds to assist in the utilities in and around the Civic Center Project (portions of Fair Oaks, Ashfield, and Maple).
That said - yes, the utilities along your frontage can be underground via an Underground Utility Assessment District. Residents in a particular area can ban together to form such a District. Votes have to be taken by the members of the District, fees paid to complete an engineering study for the area, PG&E looped in to design an appropriate network, and then a vote by the City Council to approve the District and conduct the project. The property owners in the District are responsible for the cost to underground the utilities based on the sizes of their parcels and frontage. It is not an inexpensive undertaking. Property owners can pay the assessment upfront or pay it via their property taxes over a period of 20 years.
If you are interested in exploring an underground district in your area, contact Gordon Siebert, Town Engineer
Is the Town participating in the County's clean energy program?
Yes we are. The County's Clean Energy Program
is an exploratory program in the County exploring the feasibility of creating a San Mateo County Community Choice Aggregation Authority (CCA) for electricity.
At this point, the feasibility study is underway and the Technical Advisory Committee (on which I and a member of the City Council sit) are reviewing feedback, public comment, and results. The Town has provided authorization for the County to use the Town's aggregated electricity information to determine feasibility.
If at the end of the day, it is determined that the County can form an Electricity Aggregation Authority, agencies will have the opportunity to consider whether to join or not to join. If the Town joins the CCA (also known in San Mateo as Peninsula Clean Energy), residents in Atherton are automatically enrolled in the CCA and would have the opportunity to "opt out" over the initial period (State law set it up that way - opt out only not opt in). If the Town decides not to join the CCA, residents are not allowed to participate at all.
There is no fiscal risk to the Town joining the CCA or not joining the CCA. The Town itself could join the CCA and choose to continue its electricity service from PG&E and still allow residents the choice of PG&E or other alternative energy providers.
If you would like more information on this project, feel free to drop me an email
Is the Town subsidizing green building implementation?
Not yet, but the Council will be considering the issue in September 2015 at their regular meeting. The State provides green building standards and guidelines. The Town is in compliance with those guidelines. However, the Council will be considering whether to subsidize the permit fee for residential solar installations. If you would like more information on green building standards and guidelines, feel free to contact our Building Official Brett Hale
Is the new Civic Center going to have a green component?
Definitely. This has been one of the hallmarks of discussion for the new Civic Center. The City Council hired WRNS Studio (the project architects) specifically because of some of their recent work in this area.
What that looks like, how it is integrated, what the incremental costs might be, Gold, Platinum or Silver LEED certification, and other issues have not been worked out fully yet, but as the project moves along the Committee will be putting more focus in this area.
Follow the project via the Town's Project website
What’s the Atherton Fiber project? How do I get it? When do I get it? What if I don't want it? How much does it cost?
So many questions! Most of those details have yet to be worked out. The project is still in the early stages (at least with the Town). The Atherton Fiber Project is a private endeavor not led or driven by the Town. It is expected that Atherton Fiber will work with the Town via a Development Agreement authorizing their efforts and use of the Town's right-of-way for the project. Initial estimates put the project in motion by the end of the year.
More detail of the project can be found via the Town's project website
Residential properties in Atherton often have security cameras that assist the Police in investigation of burglary suspects. Has the Town ever considered its own security cameras at key locations around Town?
Yes we have. In fact, if the Atherton Fiber project moves ahead, the Town will ask for a separate fiber trunk reserved for future Town use. When the fiber project was first envisioned, the Town envisioned using the system for emergency notification, traffic signal management, security management, street light management, information sharing, and other traditional network communications. Security was a component of that thought.
At this time however, there are no planned cameras or security locations along public streets or intersections. We will be placing security cameras in the Park at key locations to assist law enforcement.
Can the Town stop cell site installations?
No. The federal government is all over this one and when the federal government occupies the field, there is no room or ability for local government to intervene. We can, however, regulate time, place, and manner of these installations. What this means is that while we cannot deny an installation, we can condition the installation to mitigate its impact - think cell-tower trees, screening vegetation, painted installations, hours of work, etc.
The Town recently adopted a very restrictive ordinance that provides us with the ability to more closely monitor and regulate new installations and modifications to existing installations.
But - bottom line, we cannot deny the installation. We do not have the ability to question any health-related compliance or FCC compliance requirements. We can require reports validating compliance but we cannot deny or comment or condition based on those issues. Frankly, I wish it were different and that the Town had more control than it does, but we do not.
Neighborhood Issues and Traffic
I’ve heard that there is a process to get a speed table or speed hump in my neighborhood. Is this true?
We are working on that. The Traffic Safety Committee recommended that the City Council consider creating a Neighborhood Traffic Management Plan to address traffic issues and needs in a systematic and fair way throughout Town. There will be criteria against which to measure the issues on a particular street (speed, traffic volume, visibility, accessibility, etc.). These criteria will assist staff and the Traffic Safety Committee when they are faced with a request for a speed table or roundabout or other traffic control device in a neighborhood.
There will be a series of public outreach meetings in the Fall 2015 to gather local input on the project. Watch for News Flash information via the Town's website for more information.
The web is saying that El Nino this year is supposed to be huge. What is the Town doing? What about that Drainage Master Plan?
Every August/September, Public Works is tasked with creating/updating the Town's Storm Response Plan. We validate contact numbers, sandbag locations, number of sandbags, known drainage problem areas, etc. Staff begins an extensive program of storm drain clearance, channel maintenance, vegetation clearance and trimming. As winter approaches, staff begins setting out barricades at known flooding locations, sandbags, and other materials needed during a heavy storm event to assist with emergency response. Notices are sent out to the community (electronic news flashes) advising on winter preparations and storm preparedness. Staff monitors emergency operations channels and participates in weather/hazard conference calls throughout the season with the County and State Offices of Emergency Preparedness. That's all preparation and event related response.
But what about that drainage master plan
? That's a plan that is in the process of update. The preceding link will take you to the Drainage Master Plan webpage that provides updates on the progress of the Master Plan. It is currently in the process of moving to the City Council for discussion at an upcoming Study Session. The Plan Document (over 200 pages) was presented to the Council for receipt at the July Council Meeting - here's a link to the digital document
Please take some time to review the document. The document highlights the known problem areas in Town as well as addresses future storm water issues. Overall, improvements and solutions highlighted in the plan total approximately $41 million. Because the Town has limited funding resources, selected improvements must be prioritized by the City Council over the course of the Town's Capital Improvement Program. On average, the Town can fund about $2 million per year in capital infrastructure improvements. Revenue to the Town's Capital Improvement Program is primarily from the Special Parcel Tax allocated at $1.48 million per year. The rest is from grants or special intergovernmental funds (gas tax, transportation tax, etc.).
Nearly $1 million of the $2 million in annual capital expenditures on infrastructure is directly related to roadway maintenance - the rest (about $1 million) is spread across the other priorities in Town - park improvements, bicycle and pedestrian pathway improvements, traffic control devices, street light maintenance, drainage issues, and public facilities.
We can all do the math, but assuming the Town allocates about $500,000 a year to spend on drainage improvements alone, unless there is additional funding, that's a fairly long time before the Town can make a significant dent in the infrastructure needs identified in the Report.
The Town continually seeks out grants and other funding opportunities, to include the possibility of drainage improvement districts to generate independent funding. Nevertheless, limited funding options will force the Town to prioritize the improvements over the course of multiple years to address the issue.
What is it that the Code Enforcement Officer does?
As some of you may know, the Town used to employ a part-time (16-20 hours per week) code enforcement officer. This wasn't working very well and resulted in the Town addressing issues on a complaint-basis only and being unable to address many issues at all.
As a result, the Town stepped up the game and hired a full-time code enforcement officer working out of the Police Department. Monica Diaz (firstname.lastname@example.org
) is the Town's Code Enforcement Officer/Community Service Officer. Monica works cooperatively with the Building Official, Arborist, and Town Planner to address issues related to zoning, illegal construction, general property maintenance, trees, and safety. Monica is working proactively to address illegal encroachments into the Town right-of-way (rocks, vegetation, planter boxes, etc.) as well as illegal construction (working without a permit, working outside construction hours, etc.). A typical code enforcement process begins with Monica making initial contact with the property owner. Monica will investigate the potential code violation with the property owner. If it is determined that a violation exists, the property owner will be given an opportunity to comply. Depending on the severity or safety concern presented by the violation, the timeline for compliance will vary. Often, the period is 30-60 days.
If after 30-60 days the property owner has not brought the property into compliance, a more formal process will begin. Formal written notice of violation will be presented to the property owner asking again to bring the property into compliance. If there is no compliance after a compliance period, a final notice is issued advising that if compliance cannot be achieved, the Town may be forced to determine whether the violation constitutes a public nuisance and order abatement (that's a public hearing process before the City Council). If the property owner still does not bring the property into compliance, ultimately the City Council must declare the property a nuisance and order abatement. If at last chance the property owner does not comply, the Town will obtain a warrant to enter the property and remedy the violation. The costs to remedy the violation, plus administrative overhead, are assessed as a lien against the property. That full process can take a year or longer.
Most of the time, property owners bring issues into compliance within 30 to 60 days. If you have an issue or concern, feel free to send it off to Monica and she will get back to you directly.
I still see rocks in the right-of-way - isn't that illegal?
Yes and no. The Town is updating its encroachment ordinance to require the filing of a revocable license for improvements in the right-of-way. The standards for improvements allowed within the right-of-way has not changed. Rocks, boulders, and other similar objects are allowed within the right-of-way provided that they are at least 6 feet back from the edge of pavement. Obstructions such as the preceding that are within the 6 foot area are illegal.
It is important to maintain a safe-harbor for the passage of pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles. The roadway shoulder (Town right-of-way) is that safe harbor. There are standards for development within that right-of-way and property owners are allowed to make improvements in that area that are consistent with those standards. For more information on what is or is not allowed within that area, check out the City Manager's Blog
and/or contact Steve Tyler, Public Works Superintendent (email@example.com)
There's a tree in front of my property between my fence and the street, who's responsible for it?
You. Most, if not all property lines in Atherton technically extend to the center of the roadway. From the centerline back to a point certain is the "dedicated public right-of-way" designed for permanent roadway and shoulder (utilities). Your front property line for the purposes of setbacks and development is set back from the edge of pavement somewhere between 5 and 20 feet (typical in Atherton) - it varies throughout Town.
The Town's Municipal Code
echoes State law (Streets and Highways Code) in making the adjacent property owner responsible for maintenance and liability within that area of the public right-of-way between the edge of pavement and the developable line. That means that you as a property owner are not only responsible for maintenance of the trees within that area to ensure that their canopy is high enough above the roadway to allow pedestrian and vehicular access, but that in the event of failure of that tree, you are responsible for clearance of the right-of-way (street and shoulder).
This is where the issues of rocks in the right-of-way become extremely important. If a property owner were to maintain rocks (or anything hazardous for that matter) within the public right-of-way in a manner that caused damage to property or harm to a person moving in, on, or through that right-of-way - that property owner (not the Town) can be held liable as they have duty to maintain that area free of hazard. The standards that the Town has established set the standards for maintenance of that right-of-way.
Who is responsible for El Camino Real?
El Camino Real is a 6-lane State highway. All improvements to State highways are Caltrans projects. As owner-operator of the State highway system, Caltrans is responsible for the operation, maintenance, and tort liability after construction. As a result, all project planning, design, and construction must be performed in accordance with Caltrans standards and according to Caltrans project development processes. Caltrans is responsible for providing for the authorized expansion or modification of improvements proposed by others to the existing system. Caltrans has full jurisdictional authority over project planning, design, and implementation on State highways.
As a stakeholder, the Town provides input and recommendations into that process and can even participate financially to assist with priority projects. Under an agreement with Caltrans, the Town maintains the landscaped median and vegetation within the right-of-way.
Bottom-line, the roadway from edge of right-of-way to edge of right-of-way is the responsibility of Caltrans.
There's a construction project in my neighborhood and they have a truck parking in front of my house. Can I stop them from parking there?
No. The public roadway easement (inclusive of the shoulder) as discussed above is by definition public. A property owner cannot prevent someone from parking a vehicle in front of their property along the public frontage.
That said - there are several issues at play in the above question. The first is the size of the vehicle and its exact location. A vehicle cannot block a driveway, a mailbox, or prevent the safe ingress and egress from a driveway. So, if the vehicle is a large truck parked to block your driveway - you can force them to move it. If it is blocking your mailbox and preventing delivery - you can force them to move it. If they are preventing the safe ingress and egress from your driveway due to the size of your vehicle - you can force them to move it. In any of these situations, the Atherton Police Department is happy to assist.
The second issue is construction parking. When the Town issues a building permit for construction on a residential property we also educate the contractor about the requirements for parking and the creation of a construction operation and parking plan
. These are standards and not law, but are associated with a validly issued building permit and can be enforced. The standards require that construction parking shall be located on-site or within the public right-of-way, only in front of the construction site and on the same side of the street as the construction site. Sometimes this is difficult to do and there are exceptions granted, but in general, the goal is compliance with the standards.
If you are having issues with a particular construction site and associated parking, feel free to contact our Building Official Brett Hall (firstname.lastname@example.org
I sometimes see sprinklers running in the Park, is the Park subject to the State water restrictions?
Park water used for irrigation is non-potable water (from 2 different wells). The irrigation water is not subject to the State's mandate. Nevertheless, the Town is taking steps to conserve in all areas. In concert with close monitoring for some of the specimen species in the Park, Park irrigation has been reduced by 20% from 2013. Except for sprinkler maintenance, sprinklers are used only during the hours of 8 pm to 8 am. Staff does not water for a period of 48 hours after 0.1" of rain. Trees are manually watered during the day to sustain tree health. For more information, feel free to contact Steve Tyler, Public Works Superintendent (email@example.com
Town Administration and Finance
What is the Town's annual expenditure budget for operations?
The Town's Operations Budget supports the general services of the Town. Town operations consist of City Council, Administration, City Attorney, Finance, Planning, Building, Police, Public Works, and Interdepartmental. The Town's Operations Budget for Fiscal Year 2015/16 is $11,798,069.
Broken down by each of the above departments that's:
What is the Town's annual expenditure budget for capital projects?
- City Council - $57,356
- Administration - $708,845
- City Attorney - $204,000
- Finance - $647,238
- Planning - $211,598
- Building - $1,249,285
- Police - $6,348,657
- Public Works - $1,819,467
- Interdepartmental - $551,622
The Town's Capital Improvement Program is funded from various sources. The largest source of funding for capital projects is the Special Parcel Tax that provides $1.48m in revenue to the Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The Town uses a 5-Year CIP calendar to forecast revenues and expenditures within the CIP. Only the single current-year is budgeted. The next 4 years are forecast. With the Civic Center Project, likely the largest single capital project the Town has undertaken, the CIP budget for the next couple of years is significantly inflated.
In Fiscal Year 2015/16, the Town has budgeted $5,707,000 in expenditures. Of this total, nearly $2.5m is associated with the Civic Center Project. The remainder is a typical annual CIP program. Projections in Fiscal Year 2016/17 are similar - $33,103,000. Of that total, $30.7m is the Civic Center. The Civic Center Project trails off in Fiscal Year 2017/18 reflecting only $1.7m of a $3.7m budget. The CIP returns to normal levels in Fiscal Year 2018/19 with a $2.1m budget.
Without the Civic Center Project, typical CIP expenditures are related to drainage improvement projects, street projects, park projects, and facility projects.
What are the Town's primary revenue sources?
For the Town's basic operations, the primary revenue source is property taxes. Of the typical general revenue year to year of $12.5m, $8.5m is from property tax sources. The Town budgets revenues conservatively and does not include potential one-time or at-risk revenues in its operations budget expectations. Overall revenues to the general fund break down as follows:
- Property Taxes - $8,475,862
- Sales Taxes - $295,172
- Franchise Fees - $834,935
- Intergovernmental - $42,378
- Business Licenses - $219,514
- Planning Revenue - $245,100
- Building Revenue - $1660,830
- Police Revenue - $99,171
- Public Works Revenue - $268,755
- Park Program Revenue - $152,299
- Miscellaneous Revenues - $324,276
How many staff are employed by the Town?
Beyond these revenues, the Town has also traditionally received funds from the State called Educational Revenue Augmentation Funds (ERAF). ERAF funds are at-risk revenues that the Town does not use as part of its base operations. When ERAF funds are received, the Town either uses them to address long-term liabilities or one-time capital projects. The Town has traditionally received approximately $1m in ERAF revenues. The Town's general fund also receives a portion of the Special Parcel Tax (20%) - $372,000. Because this is an fund transfer in for a specific purpose (police services), the Town adds it to its annual revenue after funds are totaled.
Does the Town have a Reserve?
Yes. The Town has 3 reserve categories. The first is a 15% Emergency Reserve. This Reserve is 15% of the Town's annual operating costs - that $11.7m from above. The second Reserve is a 20% General Reserve - 20% of the Town's annual operating costs. These two Reserves total approximately $4m.
New for Fiscal Year 2015/16 is a Capital Facility Replacement Reserve. The Town has been remiss in saving for long-term facility replacement. The Fiscal Year 2015/16 budget attempts to start forward on the right path of establishing a reserve to replace the Town's buildings in the future. This reserve is not for current buildings, rather, it is to replace the new building as part of the Civic Center Project after their useful life - 50 to 70 years ahead.
Beyond these amounts, the Town will typically have an "unappropriated general fund balance" - this is the amount held by the Town beyond its operating needs and reserve requirements.
The Town has 39 full-time staff. These are distributed across the various departments as follows:
- Administration - 3
- Finance - 3
- Building - 1
- Public Works - 3
- Police - 29
Beyond these full-time staff, the Town also has 18 contract staff working at various different capacities. These are distributed across the departments as follows:
- City Attorney - 2
- Planning - 3
- Building - 5
- Public Works - 5
- Engineering - 3
In total, there are 57 staff working for Atherton residents.
Does the Town make money on our Park?
Yes, but not really. Revenue from Park activities totals approximately $277,117. It is broken down into the following categories:
- Social Fees - $47,000
- Meeting Fees - $30,000
- Class Fees - $20,966
- Weddings - $23,000
- Park Day Use Fees - $13,133
- Administrative Fees - $18,200
- Knox Playschool Lease - $78,118
- Tennis Revenue - $46,700
Does the Town have any long-term debt? What about pensions or other liabilities? What are you doing about them?
Maintenance of the Park falls in costs directly related to supporting the programs (Park Operations Vendor, Tennis support) and costs related to maintenance. These total $606,577. It is broken down as follows:
- Park Maintenance - $434,827
- Park Programs - $137,250
- Tennis - $34,500
Netting these out, the Park is subsidized by the Town's General Fund every year. In Fiscal Year 2015/16 that subsidy is $329,460 or 54%.
The Town does not have any long-term debt. However, the Town does have pension and other post employment benefit obligations (OPEB). The Town's OPEB liability is at the 90% funding level. The Town has a Irrevocable Trust established to fund the future OPEB liabilities. The Town has fully funded past liability and has funded the Trust to the 90% level with the remaining 10% representing potential future liability that may or may not be earned depending on the length of service of current employees.
The Town's pension obligation is controlled largely by CalPERS. The Town has paid off all side-fund liabilities from the 90's; however, CalPERS has recently stepped up its desire to ensure that its pension programs are fully funded. CalPERS has established a rate structure - agency by agency - to "catch" up over the next 5 years. The Town's pension rates are set by CalPERS to reach that goal. Employees pay their own share of the pension obligation.
The Town does not participate in Social Security.
How do I find out more information?
The Town's website has a plethora of information at your disposal.
If you have additional questions, feel free to contact myself or Robert Barron, Finance Director (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Town Capital Infrastructure
When is that new Civic Center going to be built?
The Civic Center Project is expected to "break ground" in late 2016. There are a lot of things that that projection depends upon - funding, completion of design, permitting, and outside agency cooperation. The Project has a project webpage that is kept as up to date as possible and the Civic Center Committee meets regularly on the 1st Monday of each month at 4:30 pm in the Town Council Chambers.
One of the key features of the potential design is the realignment of the roadways through the Civic Center to create a more pedestrian-centric environment that can be used for years to come by our residents.
We encourage your participation in the project as much as possible. In the fall, as the architect begins the Schematic Design Phase there will be a series of community outreach meetings soliciting your feedback on the exterior design of the buildings. At this time, the programming (i.e. what's going inside) has been worked through and the architect is putting the finishing touches on that conceptual design plan. That is expected to go to the City Council in September or October 2015.
How often is the road in front of my house going to be resurfaced?
In short - every 5 to 7 years the Town will inspect and make some sort of repair to the every roadway in Town.
The Town has all of its streets and roads on a Pavement Management Program. A good pavement management program extends the life cycle of a roadway and includes the patching of failed pavement sections, crack sealing, and roadway resurfacing. A solid and consistent pavement management program is a planning and budgeting tool that helps communities make more consistent, cost effective and defensible decisions and what to do and when to do it. The cost of repairs to a roadway will increase if not done at the appropriate time. Delaying roadway improvement projects results in more costly improvements when they are ultimately undertaken.
The Town conducts physical inspections of every roadway on a regular basis and inputs that information into the pavement management program which in turn analyzes the data in concert with actual field inspections. On average, the Town will conduct some sort of physical roadway improvement on every roadway every 5 to 7 years.
For specific questions about your street, feel free to contact Steve Tyler, Public Works Superintendent (email@example.com)
I heard there was a project for bicycle and pedestrian path throughout town. What's the status of that project?
The City Council approved the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and it is now in the Phase I Implementation Phase. Most of this phase consists of the installation of signage and pavement markings facilitating Class III bikeways.
The Town has a project website and an active Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee.
The limits of the Phase I project (Class III) is defined below:
I keep hearing about these hawk beacons. What are they? What do they look like? How do they work?
- Elena Avenue – between Valparaiso Avenue and Atherton Avenue;
- Faxon Road – between Barry Avenue and Elena Avenue;
- Barry Lane – between Faxon Road and Atherton Avenue;
- Selby Lane – between Atherton Avenue and West Selby Lane;
- Dinkelspiel Station Lane – between Watkins Avenue and Fair Oaks Avenue
- Austin Avenue – between Atherton Avenue and West Selby Lane;
- Atherton Avenue – between Alameda De Las Pulgas and El Camino Real;
- Fair Oaks Avenue – between El Camino Real and Middlefield Road;
- Alejandra Avenue – between El Camino Real and Emilie Avenue;
- Emilie Avenue – between Alejandra Avenue and Park Lane;
- Park Lane – between Emilie Avenue and Camino al Lago;
- Camino al Lago – between Park Lane and Alameda de Las Pulgas; and
- Watkins Avenue – between El Camino Real and Middlefield Road.
There are 3 HAWK Beacons slated for installation on El Camino Real in Atherton. Two are funded entirely by Caltrans at the intersections of Alejandra and El Camino Real and Isabella and El Camino Real. The timeline for these installations is Fiscal Year 2016/17.
The third HAWK is being installed at Almendral and El Camino Real. This HAWK is funded in partnership with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.
HAWK Beacons are effectively pedestrian activated stop lights for vehicles traveling along El Camino Real. The lights will be dark until activated by a pedestrian. Once activated, the lights flash yellow (caution), then flash red, then go to a solid red. At solid red, the lights act like a stop light for all vehicles traveling on El Camino Real. As the pedestrian crosses, the lights can return to flashing red (proceed when safe) and then go dark.
Here's a video of one in action in Crescent City. Atherton's will have one signal head per lane of travel.
What’s going on with the Park Master Plan?
The Park Master Plan has been accepted by the City Council and implementation is underway in Fiscal Year 2015/16. The current year budget's CIP has $225,000 budgeted. Projects for Fiscal Year 2015/16 are:
- Renovations of various plantings around the Park
- Corp Yard and Preschool Relocation Studies
Street lights have always been an issue in my neighborhood. Some neighbors want them, some don’t, some want LEDs. Is the Town working on anything on the topic of Streetlights?
As these and other projects progress, the City Council may review improvements at mid-year (January 2017) and consider moving up Fiscal Year 2016/17 projects. These projects include:
- Pedestrian Circulation - reconstruction and repair of various path links and addition of lighting fixtures
One of the concerns is that given that the Little League facility just completed and the Park Foundation will begin renovations to the Event Garden, the Town does not want to overload the Park with construction activity.
More information on the Park Master Plan can be found on the Town's website
Yes. One of the projects in the Town's CIP is the Series Street Light Replacement Program. Of the approximately 248 Town-owned street lights, approximately 40 are powered by high-voltage series circuits. These will be replaced. Part of the project also involves an analysis of the Town's overall street light program and the implementation of LED street lights at key locations. Further, the project will involve making recommendations on other issues such as upgrading to the remainder of the Town's lights to LEDs, purchasing the approximately 185 PG&E owned distribution lights and seeking an alternative maintenance provider.
Pilot projects will be initiated to assist residents in the area in selecting appropriate LED lights. Some LEDs are brighter than others and some have different color variations that become important when viewed at night. The Town will seek input before making any significant installations. These days, most, if not all of the installations can be retrofit into existing light standards and designs.
Whew! That was a lot of information. I'm willing to bet there are a few typos in the mix here and there. Please take a read and send me your comments. I am happy to answer any questions or elaborate further on any of the issues listed. And remember, watch for opportunities to provide feedback to the Town via our Open Town Hall website!
Have a great weekend!
Town of Atherton