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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

OUR COUNTY: Adopting a Budget

Facing an unprecedented budget shortfall, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors adopted a balanced budget on June 22nd. Our action concludes more than a week of public hearings and months of work to responsibly reduce the $61.6 million gap created by the struggling economy. The adopted Budget maintains core services, adopts a prudent fiscal path for the next year and lays the groundwork for a county re-design effort. The total adopted budget is $1.18 billion and reflects a 7.4% reduction from the FY 2009-2010 County Budget.

The $61.6 million gap was closed by using $27.0 million in permanent program reductions, $10 million in carryover funds, $11.7 million in reserve funds for one-time purposes, $6.7 in increased revenues, $2 million in pension cost savings and $4.2 million in employee contributions.

The budget reduces the number of county full time equivalent positions by 237 and will result in 61 layoffs. The Board established a number of service restorations funded by employee contributions in the form of unpaid leave or Mandatory-Time Off (MTO) which equates to salary savings of approximately 3%. Those restored programs include: The Sierra Youth Camp, community oriented policing services, Regional Park maintenance, domestic violence victims support, and drug and alcohol treatment counseling.

The Board preserved funding for the Human Services Commission which supports a variety of local non-profits. By using federal stimulus funds, the Board preserved two Veterans Services officers which were slated for elimination. Veterans Service Officers help local veterans access state and federal benefits.

Although this budget is complete, we must begin the process to engage the community on the shape of the County looking forward with fewer resources. Next year we will face challenges. Economic development and finding new ways to grow our economy must be our priority. Our County remains an innovator and I am confident we will re-invent our government to better serve our community.

Another challenge looms in the months ahead, dependent on the State of California’s budget decisions which may include further diversions of local funds.

During the past few years, we have seen a dramatic increase in demand for safety net services for people living in Sonoma County who have been impacted by the housing collapse, high unemployment, and other effects of the deep recession. As a result, many are turning to our social services for the first time in their lives. High demand and decreased funding create a challenging and stressful equation both for those seeking assistance and service providers.

While June has been mostly all about the budget, it’s also been a month with some unfortunate outcry over comments that I made during a Board discussion about the waste hauling RFP on June 8th. While I hesitate to give this “issue” more air, suffice it to say that I stand behind my statement that the County of Sonoma should not be awarding contracts to firms from Arizona due to their misguided immigration law, SB1070. Fellow Fifth District resident, Chris Kerosky, wrote an excellent opinion outlining the many problems with Arizona’s law and the unacceptable consequences which its requirements impose on legal residents, civil employees and local government.

In addition to the factor that Republic Services is based in Arizona, this contract award came despite the fact that a Sonoma County Engineering firm bid $250,000 less than Republic. In my opinion, it is in our interest to award the contract to the lowest capable bidder, especially when that company is locally owned.

Please join me at a Neighborhood Town Hall with Sebastopol City Councilmember Kathleen Shaffer on July 22nd from 7-8:30pm at the Sebastopol Library. I appreciate Kathleen’s invitation to join her in discussing items of concern to Sebastopol residents.

With the budget wrapped, and moving toward a conclusion on July 13th, it’s time to prepare to celebrate our Nation’s birthday on the 4th of July. Whether you’re on the field at Analy High School for fireworks on the 3rd, at the Water Parade in Monte Rio on the same evening, or at the Coast for Bodega Bay’s famed firework display, I hope you and your family enjoy the bounty and choice that our community has to offer.

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