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.
The proposal calls for boosting the department's budget to $47.8 million, a 5.2 percent increase over the current year. For comparison, the fire department's budget is set to go up 1 percent while the parks and recreation department is dropping by 5.2 percent, though that's largely because of a change in the structure of the Bennett Valley Golf Course operations, Bartley said.
The additional police funds will allow for the hiring of one police officer, one community service officer, increasing funds for the canine program, and enhancing graffiti abatement.
Boosting the police department budget when others, like parks, are seeing no increases is justified, Bartley said, because it is following the will of those who voted for Measure O.
"The fact is the voters voted to enhance certain things and were achieving that," Bartley said. The budget also funds a number of initiates the council has supported, including $1.2 million for the annexation of Roseland, $650,000 in matching funds for affordable housing, $600,000 to replace and turn back on streetlights, and $100,000 for efforts to secure the Highway 12 right-of-way for a Southeast Greenway.
Staff Writer Kevin McCallum can be reached at 521-5207 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @citybeater.