San Mateo budget improving yet $100M short

A slow rise in property transfer taxes, interest on investments and fee collection has helped San Mateo’s budget level out after the economic crash in the first half of the decade.

While the gradual increase in funds will allow the city to hire a new deputy police chief and enhance its fire services, there is still more than $100 million in unfunded capital improvement projects looming over the City Council.

“The financial condition of the city is stable. The major challenge that we have is finding funding for the capital improvement program,” Finance Director Hossein Golestan said. “The idea now is to come up with a comprehensive funding plan that is acceptable to the City Council and the community, because at our current level these [projects] will never be completed.”

The city has only $13.45 million set aside for capital improvement projects in the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.

Mayor Jack Matthews said the city is looking into the possibility of voter-supported assessments or additional taxes to help with that budget, which would include street improvements, fire station upgrades and other projects.

The gradual increase in revenues will also allow the city to return fire engine 21, stationed downtown, to full duty. Recently, the engine was “browned-out” when short staffed and the station used only its ladder truck to respond to emergencies.

“This year, with this additional revenue, we’ll be able to keep it going full time,” Matthews said.

The budget also includes several new city positions, all on a limited basis. The Police Department is adding a deputy police chief, a position spokesman Lt. Mike Brunicardi said the department hasn’t had before. Although details on the position have not been decided, whoever fills it could be analyzing department goals, training officers or coordinating department activities, among other possibilities.

Halfway through a two-year budget cycle, the city’s revenues are $3.5 million below their total $140 million operating budget, with surplus monies expected to fill the gap. Today, the City Council will formally adopt the 2007-08 fiscal year budget, first presented May 17 and discussed at the June 4 council meeting. Like many Bay Area cities, San Mateo has used a multiyear budgeting process since 1984, which allows it to plan ahead for tough years or save up during booms.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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