Council to juggle accounts in order to balance budget
When the Sonoma City Council sat down to chew on the 2011-12 budget during a study session June 2, they confronted a projected operating deficit of $170,508.
Their first order of business was a decision on whether, and how much, the Tier I nonprofits should be funded from general fund revenues. Those nonprofits - the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley, the Sonoma Community Center, Vintage House senior center and the Sonoma Ecology Center - provide services to youth, seniors and the greater community often provided in other cities by a parks and recreation department.
No member of the council argued that the four agencies should not be funded, but there was unanimous agreement that funding should be reduced by 12 percent, the same percentage by which the city's operating budget has been cut over the past two years.
Cutting 12 percent of the $140,000 requested produced a savings of $16,800 and left a deficit of $153,708.
The council spent the rest of the June 2 session discussing ways to shave expenses by that amount. Suggestions included:
Ending city payment for water charges incurred for irrigation of city parks and public land. The idea, to transfer those costs onto ratepayer bills, would have reduced the budget deficit by $100,000. Other suggested savings included cutting the city prosecutor's fees by $4,500, reducing city membership in professional associations by $7,200, dropping purchase of a Plein Air art piece, for $1,000 among others. Taken together, these cost reductions would have dropped the deficit to about $41,000.
At the end of the June 2 meeting, staff were instructed to explore the feasibility of these actions and recommend a final set of cost reduction options for the City Council to consider during its June 20 meeting.
In the interim, staff discovered transferring the cost of irrigating city parklands to ratepayers was prohibited by law and some other reductions would require further steps to implement.
But there remained a potential $100,000 jackpot not included in the draft budget, relating to the cost of the state-funded COPS program which provides revenue for community policing programs. In Sonoma, COPS dollars pay for the Community Service Officers who provide administrative support, animal control and parking enforcement, among a variety of duties.
State legislators from both parties have expressed the desire to maintain the COPS funding, but they haven't yet agreed on how to pay for it.
With that money in limbo, city staff are recommending that the council include the as-yet approved $100,000 COPS funds as "deferred revenue" pending a decision by the legislature.
Staff is further recommending the city take $49,508 from a combination of General Fund Operating Reserves and Special Project Reserves to bring the budget into balance.
If the state subsequently fails to fund the COPS program, staff then suggest that the council should re-evaluate whether the CSO positions should be eliminated.
If the council does not accept the staff recommendation, then further cuts will have to be made in various city expenditures to save the missing $100,000.
Also on Monday's council agenda will be two items dealing with rules governing council member use of staff time, and the possibility of establishing rules of order to govern council meetings.
The City Council will meet at 6 p.m. in regular session following a 5 p.m. closed session. The meeting is held in the Community Meeting Room, 177 First St. W.