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Thursday, June 3, 2010

OUR County: 2010/11 County Budget

The most important action the Board of Supervisors takes each year is the County Budget. It is the blueprint or road map of the County’s work to maintain and enhance our quality of life in Sonoma County.

On June 1st the recommended Budget will be released. Beginning the week of June 14th the Board will be holding budget hearings. All hearings will be held at the Board Chambers at 575 Administration Drive; Santa Rosa starting on Monday at 8:30 am and concluding each afternoon. Should additional time be required, these hearings will continue into the following week.

The County Administrator (CAO) and departments have been collaboratively working on the budget since January. When the County began this process the projected deficit was $36 million. Today, the projected shortfall due to revenue declines and state and federal program cuts stands at just short of $62 million. Our new CAO, Veronica Ferguson has been diligently working with her team to help close this gap. The shortfall we face this year is also compounded by cuts the Board made last year to close a $25 million gap.

To put this in perspective, the entire County budget for 2010/11 will be $1.18 billion. Our general fund is $395 million, and $200 million of that is mandatory spending for required Federal or State programs. What should have been $250 million + is now $195 million in discretionary funds to run parks, fix roads, and support our infrastructure.

Balancing our budget under these circumstances, with possible money grab from the state looming, will require unprecedented cuts in programs and services. Current budget solutions will reduce our County workforce by an additional 300 positions. A few years ago, Sonoma County had over 4,000 employees. If current budget proposals remain, we will begin our year with just over 3,000 people. Concurrently, there are dramatic increases in need for services by those in our community who have suffered unemployment and foreclosure.

As mentioned, the County Budget is a collaboration between Departments, and the CAO, which details programs and jobs which will be impacted or eliminated. We will be doing less with less but what we endeavor will be done well. Technology advances will be implemented where possible to reduce expenditures, and we will get through this difficult time.

To help close the gap, everyone is being asked to sacrifice. County vendors have been asked to reduce their contracts by 10%. Negotiations are ongoing with employee unions in a continued effort to reduce the loss of programs and jobs. No one thing will be enough to eliminate the reductions proposed, but we may well stem the tide through some of these efforts.

Projections for the next several years show that we will be at diminished levels of revenue for a number of years. However, our County is committed to searching for additional revenue sources, partnerships, and collaboration to provide effective, vital services. Further, recent revenue figures have showed a trend toward stabilization and a slight upturn, so the news isn’t completely Grim.

While unemployment continues to hover at around 11%, the Governor’s May revise of the state budget includes elimination of CalWorks and other supportive programs. CalWorks is an essential program allowing lower income people to find jobs by providing training and vital support (like childcare subsidies to working families). Ironically, nearly 70% of the money to fund this program comes from the Federal government. While eliminating CalWorks means saving 30% of the total contribution to the economy. The ripple effect of this is hard to quantify, but certainly life will be that much harsher for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. More people will be in danger of homelessness and despair.

This scenario could have been written by the Grimm Brothers, but it is no fairy tale.

Please join me and the staff of the Sonoma County Water Agency on Thursday, June 9th for a discussion of the State Water Board’s Interim Russian River Flow Change order, and impacts on the lower Russian River community. The meeting to discuss this measure to meet the requirements of the Biological Opinion will be at the Guerneville Veteran’s Building from 6:30 to 8pm.

Finally, please vote NO on Proposition 16! If you live in the Russian River Fire District, please vote yes on measure F.

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