Council adopts balanced budget
Unsettled state issues and an uncertain economy didn't keep the Sonoma City Council from adopting a balanced budget Monday. The vote was unanimous for the $11,464,395 operating budget, as was the certainty that the budget will have to be amended in the future.
"Many pieces are not yet in place," said City Manager Linda Kelly.
One of the pieces is the state's inability to decide if it is going to keep the Citizens Option for Public Safety grant program (COPS), which provides $100,000 a year for two community services officers. For now, the grant revenue is included in the budget, but this might change if the grant is reduced or discontinued.
Other unknowns are the exact amount of property tax revenues the city will receive and the cost of any changes to labor contracts, which are still being negotiated. Both could affect the balance between revenues and expenditures for general purposes, as there is little left that can be cut without reducing core services.
Earlier this month, the council held a study session to find ways to eliminate a projected $170,508 shortfall in the General Fund. Reductions were made to the nonprofit service providers, the city prosecutor, city memberships, public art program and water charges for public parks. The last cut was found to be illegal, so the city will continue to pay $100,000 to the water fund for irrigation of public areas. This expenditure will be offset by the hoped-for revenue from the COPS grant, which is the same amount.
Total reductions to the base budget for non-core services add up to $129,500. That left $39,508 to come from operating reserves and $10,000 to come from special projects reserves. The drawdown of reserves will not be implemented until June 1, 2012, with the hope that expenditures may be less and they won't have to be touched.
"This is an interim budget until we know what is happening," said Kelly. "We will come back to you with an amendment if necessary at a later date."
Veteran council-watcher David Cook commended the council for making required cuts in a well-thought-out manner and for using reserves as needed. He also expressed optimism that the economy was improving.
But staff cautioned council that more tough decisions may be on the horizon.
"We need to start looking at new revenue sources," said Carol Giovanatto, assistant city manager and finance director. "We've built up our reserves over many years, and don't want to keep drawing them down."
At a future meeting the council will study a Tourism Improvement District, increase in Transient Occupancy Taxes and potential savings in the fire authority.
Another issue in flux is the fate of redevelopment. Two bills have been put forward by the state legislature; one that eliminates redevelopment funds, the other keeps it with tight strings and fees attached. The governor has not yet signed either. Choosing either one will likely place the issue in the courts with cities citing constitutional issues and a violation of cities' rights. That said, the council adopted its various Community Development Agency budgets, notably the administrative budget at $13,410,723. This is the budget that contains proceeds from the recent bond sale for capital improvements. The Economic Development, Low Income Housing and Debt Service budgets were also approved.
Other council action included:
• Acceptance of a $1,762,681 bid from S.W. Allen Construction of Sacramento for improvements to the Sonoma Valley Regional Library. The library will be closed from July 16 to mid-August for its move to its interim location at Burlingame Hall at the Congregational Church on Spain Street.
• Direction to staff on modifications to a new set of rules governing how and when councilmembers place items on the agenda and receive information from staff. A resolution formalizing the procedures will be brought back at the next meeting.
• Adoption of Rosenberg's Rules of Order for conduct of council meetings. While Robert's Rules were loosely followed in the past, there is no legal obligation to use any rules in conducting meetings.
• Receipt of a presentation by Redwood Empire Food Bank on their services in Sonoma Valley.