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Santa Rosa council to decide how to spend 9% more

Santa Rosa's City Council begins the first of two in-depth budget sessions Tuesday to decide how to spend about 9 percent more in the coming year.

The budget is set to increase to $339.9 million under the draft proposed by City Manager Kathy Millison. The current budget is $311.5 million.

The increased spending after years of budget austerity is made possible in part by increases in tax collections and permit fees.

“We're in what I characterize as a fiscal recovery,” Millison said. “But we still have a lot of challenges.”

Sales, property and other taxes are tracking $2.1 million higher than expected this year, according to Chief Financial Officer Lawrence Chiu. The city also expects about $500,000 more in permit fees, fines and charges. Revenues are expected to rise 2 percent. The city general fund, the pot of money over which the City Council has the most control, is expected to see a 5.6 percent spending bump, from $116.9 million to $123.4 million.

That includes an 8 percent increase to the parks and recreation departmentand a 3 percent increase to the police department, including a $700,000 bump to get the department closer to the level prescribed by Measure O, the voter-approved sales tax measure.

The fire department's operating budget is going up by about 5 percent next year, but because of the way it accounts for the one-time federal grant it received this year, its overall budget is expected to go down 4 percent.

General fund revenues are expected to come in at $125.5 million next year, $2.1 million higher than expenses. That means the city should be able to keep $20.3 million in reserve, or about 16.4 percent of expenses. The council's goal is 15 percent.

The utilities department budget is set to increase 12 percent to $136.5 million, reflecting the higher cost of water purchases, the addition of several new positions and nearly $14 million more for upgrades to the city's water and sewerinfrastructure.

Tuesday, beginning at noon, the City Council will hear presentations from recreation and parks, police and fire, as well as administrative departments. That will be followed on May 14 by economic development and housing, community development, information technology, transportation and public works and utilities.

Formal budget hearings take place in June.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.

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