Santa Rosa took a major step toward the annexation of Roseland on Tuesday when the City Council agreed to spend nearly $1.2 million to officially make the southwest neighborhood part of the city.

Mayor Scott Bartley said it was the most important and significant move the city has taken in the 20 years he has watched the debate. "This is a serious commitment on the part of our city," he said. "We have never gotten to this point before."

The money will fund the promotion of Community Development Director Chuck Regalia to assistant city manager for two years. It also will finance efforts by city departments, such as police and public works, to analyze the cost of annexation and fund the cost of a senior planner for two years.

The money is coming from a $3.3 million surplus from last year's budget, which benefited from a combination of tight cost controls and an improving economy, Acting Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Phillips said.

A few council members expressed some hesitation about the creation of a new assistant city manager position to deal with the annexation. Phillips explained that Regalia was tapped because of his experience, leadership and ability to manage the project on the accelerated timeline the council requested.

Phillips originally had planned to manage the effort in the fall. But the council pushed the timeline up several months to make sure it could strike an agreement with the county by the end of the year on cost-sharing for new services and infrastructure improvements in Roseland. Phillips added that the loss of the city's chief financial officer contributed to the decision to create the new position.

Bartley strongly supported Regalia's promotion. "I basically think this is a brilliant solution to a very complex problem," he said.

The handful of residents who spoke about the issue Tuesday were all in favor of annexation, though not all were supportive of the way the city was going about it.

Former Roseland resident Duane DeWitt said he didn't think such high-level management was needed to guide the project forward. Previous major annexations in the southwest have been done by lower-level project managers, and he didn't see why Roseland should be any different. "It's not like we're reinventing the wheel here," DeWitt said. "You don't have to spend this much money."

Councilman Ernesto Olivares disagreed. "This is a big, big project, and I don't think it deserves to be done on a shoestring budget," Olivares said. "It needs to be done right and well."

Some residents focused on the pressing needs facing some of the 6,400 residents of the county island.

Resident Roger McConnell urged the council to move forward with annexation for the sake of the residents who need basic services offered by the city.

In one mobile home park on Sebastopol Road supplied by well water, one resident has manganese levels thousands of times above the federally allowed standards, said McConnell, president of the Santa Rosa Manufactured Home Owners Association.

"We need to get some water out to those people," he said. "In a Third World country, you wouldn't stand that kind of stuff."

Much of the council's discussion revolved around Councilwoman Julie Combs' suggestion to spend an additional $127,000 to study extending police services to all 50 unincorporated county islands in the city's urban growth boundary.

Combs explained that she was in a minor car accident recently, and figuring out whether the accident happened in the city or a county island was confusing, not only for her but for emergency dispatchers, as well.

While other council members agreed that extending police services to county areas might be helpful, they noted that the county hadn't asked the city to take over that role. They also worried that it would distract from the main goal of getting Roseland annexed as quickly as possible.