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County supervisors get first look at budget plan Monday

For the first time in four years, Sonoma County supervisors are set to consider a balanced budget Monday when they begin hearings on a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

County Administrator Veronica Ferguson's proposed $383.9 million general fund budget still foresees reductions across many county service areas starting July 1. They include continued deferred maintenance at county parks, limited public hours at some county offices and reduced inspections on some agricultural activities.

But this year, those cuts are driven not by multi-million-dollar deficits but by flat spending, forcing departments to absorb cost increases by holding staff and program expenses level.

The proposed general fund budget, representing the bulk of county discretionary spending, is down about 0.8 percent from the current year's plan.

Ferguson called it a “new baseline” for the general fund, which is down 10 percent, and total staffing, which has dropped 8 percent, from 2009-2010. To address shortfalls since then, the county has slashed a combined $100 million in general fund spending and 600 filled and unfilled jobs.

Road upkeep, park staffing, land-use planning and library hours all have suffered, while some high-profile services such as the sheriff's office helicopter have been spared at the last minute.

“We know what it is that we're currently doing,” said Ferguson. “Is that good enough? Probably not. We know we need to invest.”

Affected departments absorbed an effective cut of about five percent, totaling about $6 million, to cover rising salaries and benefits, along with increased service and supply expenses.

Few if any layoffs are expected.

Last minute changes restored about seven filled positions, including a prosecutor and two District Attorney investigator jobs, two probation officers and a sheriff's position connected with the county's graffiti removal program.

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