$146 million budget sails through City Council | News | Palo Alto Online |

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$146 million budget sails through City Council

Environmental position to be filled again with a four-member team, not an individual, despite 'accountability' concerns

After a series of budget hearings, the Palo Alto City Council merely had to follow legal protocols and make a few relatively minor decisions to adopt its $146 million 2008-09 budget Monday night.

The council adopted the balanced budget with a 9-0 vote.

Finance Committee Chairman Jack Morton called the budget "cautious."

"These are somewhat uncertain times," he said.

Unlike last year, when angry hills residents filled the chambers to protest anticipated cutbacks of foothills fire service, this budget's controversies had been addressed previously.

City Manager Frank Benest's widely unpopular proposal to shift some sidewalk maintenance responsibilities to property owners for as much as $600,000 in savings was dropped.

"My life is too short," Benest explained earlier.

A more recent change was the restoration of about $15,000 to continue Fire Department involvement in bike-safety programs, following protests from several members of the community.

Even utility rate increases -- expected to add nearly $26 per month to average monthly bills -- proved non-controversial Monday, with only one speaker from the public questioning transfers of money from the utility accounts to the city's general fund.

A majority of property owners needed to submit written protests to block the 7.1 percent water-rate increase and the 10 percent refuse-rate jump, but the city received only 62 protests for water and 60 refuse protests, City Clerk Donna Grider said. Stopping the refuse rate increase would have required 9,612 protests, according to city staff.

In its second year, the council voted 7-2 to keep the environmental coordinator position staffed with a team of four people rather than hiring a single person.

"I think with everything on our plate related to environmental issues, I think its too much work for one position," Vice Mayor Peter Drekmeier said.

But Mayor Larry Klein and Councilman Sid Espinosa said they would prefer a single individual who could be held accountable and would be easy to contact.

The budget includes $85.6 million for infrastructure projects, primarily for utilities.

"That's truly a terrific accomplishment in my mind," Benest said.

It also uses a combination of revenue increases and expense cuts to set aside $962,000 from the general fund to help finance debt for the planned public-safety building.

Without the public-safety financing measures, the budget includes a $300,000 surplus, Benest said.

The city is also saving money for its current and future retiree medical expenses.

(Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at btrout@paweekly.com.)

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