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Santa Rosa council to review increasing budget

Santa Rosa's annual budget process ramps up Tuesday when the City Council begins considering how to allocate general fund revenues benefitting from increased sales taxes.

Discussion of the proposed $128.3 million budget, a 4 percent increase, will be broken up into two study sessions, the first beginning at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the second taking place the same time next week.

The first session will tackle some of the traditionally more controversial departments, with presentations from administration, recreations and parks, police and fire.

The following week the council will tackle economic development and housing, community development, information technology, transportation and public works, utilities and the capital improvement program.

Overall, the city's financial health continues to improve, said Mayor Scott Bartley.

"I'm still cautiously optimistic we're trending in the right direction," Bartley said. "This is definitely a better year and hopefully this trend will continue."

In recent years, department budgets have been largely flat, with some exceptions, meaning that costs increases ate into service levels, Bartley said. Now, however, the improved revenue picture allows a "status quo" budget with no cuts.

"We're not cutting anything this year," Bartley said.

The milestone is an important because it means there is no longer justification for the city manager to propose funding police, fire or gang prevention services below the levels called for under Measure O, said Interim CFO Jennifer Phillips.

For the last few years, a debate has raged at budget time over how far below an ever-increasing baseline the police budget should be set. But this year there is sufficient funding to bring the police department up to the baseline level, Bartley said.

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