City plans meetings on budget, pool and fire/med
After reviewing an overlapping array of city council goals and priorities compiled by each of Sonoma's five council members, the council decided in its regular session Monday night to schedule a series of special meetings to address the three top priorities.
Those were identified by City Manager Linda Kelly as:
One: A multi-faceted effort to balance the city budget by identifying core services and focusing priorities, while reviewing funding mechanisms and realigning the city budget in light of the probable loss of redevelopment funds.
Two: Resolving the future of the Joint Powers Authority (JPA) that currently governs the Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Authority. Opinions among council members vary on what the best operating structure should be for fire/rescue services, and what arrangement would save the city the most money.
A working group/transition team is currently meeting monthly to explore the issue, for which a consulting service has already submitted a study. That study urges a contract-for-service model - not unlike the arrangement for police services between the city and the Sonoma County Sheriff's Service.
Three: Making a decision on whether or not to seriously pursue construction of a community swimming pool.
The dilemma facing the city is not building the pool, but operating it. There is enough money available for pool construction, but several years of study and analysis have not yet identified a revenue or funding model that would cover projected annual operating costs without draining the city's general fund.
Mayor Laurie Gallian said she wanted to see an update report on the feasibility of a Parks and Recreation District. Like a hospital or school district, a parks and rec district would have the authority to collect parcel taxes to pay for district expenses.
After kicking around meeting options, the council agreed to start with a budget workshop to be scheduled on a weekday in the near future. Among the issues that will raise are whether or not to increase the TOT (transient occupancy tax) on city hostelries, and whether to trim city services and/or staff positions or dip further into city reserves to balance to upcoming budget. Throughout the current recession, the city has avoided layoffs, although hiring for some empty positions has been frozen.
City staff were directed to schedule a date and time for the budget workshop.
In other council business, Kelly reported that there was nothing to report on the state budget front, because the Legislature has been in Easter recess and will not return to the budget battleground until next week.
The latest word from Sacramento, she said, is that Gov. Brown will release a "May revise" budget detailing the cuts that will have to be made - totaling as much as $15 billion - if new tax revenues are not approved. So far, Kelly added, there has been no resolution of the redevelopment issue, although the California Redevelopment Association has released an alternative proposal that would allow redevelopment agencies to voluntarily direct a percentage of their funds to local school districts in exchange of extensions in their bond retirement periods.