LAFAYETTE -- An unexpected budget surplus resulting from a spike in property tax values will help fund the repair of a damaged trail and pay for other pressing needs, city leaders decided this week.

Officials voted Monday to use a portion of the extra $150,000 Lafayette will receive in additional property tax revenue to fix a drainage channel and trail damaged by a slide. Erosion of both a city-owned easement near Moraga Road and a nearby easement owned by the town of Moraga caused the slide.

Staffers had estimated property taxes in 2013-14 would increase approximately 1.5 percent from the prior year. All Contra Costa cities learned in July that their property tax valuations had increased; Lafayette's assessed values grew 5.86 percent over the prior year.

According to a staff report, the city plans to split the estimated $190,000 repair cost with Moraga, which owns that adjacent easement that handles runoff from a nearby residential subdivision. Staffers estimate Lafayette's portion at about $75,000 to $80,000.

"Because that slide is endangering a property uphill, both jurisdictions feel like we need to get that repair done before the rainy season starts," said City Manager Steve Falk.

City council members also agreed to earmark $50,000 to accelerating a street sign replacement project last discussed in May. That project calls for replacing all of the city's 850 street-name signs to meet federal reflectivity standards and create a "unified" aesthetic.


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Staffers had originally planned to complete the project in four years, but the city will now try to expedite the project and finish it in two years.

The remaining money will be used to add a staffer to the Public Art committee, which lost its city liaison when special projects coordinator Ann Meredith retired in March.

Since Meredith's departure, a senior planner has administered the art program. However, Falk said the burden on an increasingly busy planning department had prompted the search for someone else to staff the public art committee.

The city plans to transfer that responsibility to Juliet Hansen, who manages the Lamorinda School Bus Program. The bus program currently has excess staff after the city of Piedmont -- which had contracted with Lamorinda for three years -- resumed their own bus program.

Falk said the move would also help spotlight what the city spends on public art because the city will need to create a separate budget item for the art program now that it will no longer be included in the planning department budget.

"That process alone is probably worth doing just so it daylights how much the city spends on public art," Falk said.

The city estimates it will cost about $20,000 to $25,000 annually for a staffer spending six hours a week on the art program.

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