I am a member of the town’s Ad Hoc Citizens Committee to review ways to consistently generate a source, or sources, of revenues to maintain and improve the infrastructure of the town. The Ad Hoc committee consisted of myself, Lee Fagot (Chair), Mark Robinson (Co-chair) and two council people (Marico Sayoc and Steve Leonardis) with guidance from town staff. Essentially, the town can sell off assets or tax the citizens to accomplish this. If you read other stuff that I have written, you’ll understand that I am not for selling off town properties at all. Go here for more information: https://lg-ca.com/lets-dont-sell-off-town-property-just-because-we-need-short-term-profits/
Why was the committee formed? The town is looking for a more consistent source of revenues to finance the cost of repair and improvement of the infrastructure (things like streets, sewers, lights, etc). We were instructed to look at raising the Transit Occupancy Tax which is a tax on people that stay at hotels in Los Gatos. (EG, Los Gatos is currently charging a 10%, tax, Campbell is 12%, Saratoga 10%, Palo Alto 14%, Gilroy at 9%, etc.). Additionally we were to look at the Utility Users Tax (UUT) – think about your electric bill with the additional taxes tacked on) If we raise the TOT in Los Gatos by 2%, that will cost the visitor about $3.00 more for the average room. Our TOT rate has not increased since 1983. We have never had a UUT
Before we added taxes, we wanted to understand that the costs born by the town are pared down such that the town can do the best job with the least amount of money needed to do the job right the first time. The single largest budget item for the Los Gatos operating budget is currently a topic of major discussion, and that is the cost of local police vs the cost of outsourcing to the sheriff.. That has become one persons hot button that we felt we needed to understand before moving forward on taxes.
There are only three cities in Santa Clara Co. that have outsourced to the sheriff, all for a long period of time; Saratoga, Cupertino and Los Altos Hills. Cost comparisons are by the ratio of total police expenditures divided by total operating budget. Los Gatos has the highest ratio by far. With that said, we also realized that we have to understand what comprises the numbers. As with looking at a car to purchase, you need to know what’s under the hood, and what do you need (or want) to get from point A to point B. Some want a Lexus; some want a Fiat. The committees’ residents in particular wanted to know the basis behind why our cost ratio was higher and if it was justifiable or acceptable to the towns citizens, or not.
Les White, while employed by the town of Los Gatos both as an interim town manager and later as a consultant, did a study comparing the costs of those three towns and compared them to Los Gatos. As a very short summary of his findings, the wages at the patrolmen level were very similar. The patrolmen and the services demanded of them are central to the cost drivers. As you went up the ladder, the highest levels of the sheriff were considerably higher, but those wages are distributed over a larger base of the population. As I reviewed Mr. White’s report to the town, I came up with about 13 questions to better understand why our costs were higher than the 3 cities. We residents on the committee felt it imperative to understand whether or not we could help finance infrastructure by cutting costs rather than adding taxes. If you would like to review Mr. White’s report, go to: http://www.losgatosca.gov/documentcenter/view/15379
Before we looked at the police costs, we first questioned staff levels and found that through attrition, the staff is already substantially understaffed, so we did not pursue cutting more staff. That left us with the cost of the police issue which is brought up numerous times at council meetings by John Shepardson. Mr. White’s report was developed by the town staff and Mr. White. If you don’t conduct your own study to contradict their findings, then you have to make a judgement call based on the veracity of the people involved. Based on the people I worked with, and believing I am relatively astute, I believe most, if not all, of the answers I was given. Those will be forthcoming in the next installment.
You are welcome to delve deeper into costs as the budget is open and available at http://www.losgatosca.gov/21/Operating-Budget , and you are always welcome to speak at council meetings, or you can attend our Ad Hoc Committee meeting this next Tue, March 22, at 1 pm in the council chambers at 110 East Main Street. All of these meetings are open to the public. Go here to catch up on all of our meetings:
This article will be built upon as this is the first installment.