PD Editorial: Yes on A: Rohnert Park still needs budget help

  • 2/22/2009:G4: 1: ROHNERT PARK CITY HALL: Among the features incorporated in the city's headquarters are energy-efficient windows and a solar-powered water catch basin.

    11/8/2008:B1: Today, it is Rohnert Park's new City Hall, dressed in multicolored hues and marked by curving arches. Not long ago, it was a nondescript office building, transformed at a cost of $4.5 million to include an addition for the council chambers and measures to make it energy-efficient. The Rohnert Park City Council will meet for the first time in the council chambers at 7 p.m. Monday. The new City Hall on Avram Avenue is two doors from the old City Hall, which the administration had outgrown and officials said was too costly to renovate.

    PC: Rohnert Park's new City Hall on Friday November 7, 2008. Scott Manchester / The Press Democrat

Rohnert Park has reduced city spending by almost 15 percent since 2006. The City Council budgeted $24.5 million for the current fiscal year. That's the smallest sum since 2003-04.

Even so, city officials expect a $1.4 million deficit for 2013-14, with projections showing ongoing deficits for years to come, potentially threatening the city's solvency.

"Looking at these numbers," Councilman Amy Ahanotu said during a budget hearing in June, "I hope we can come up with something that can help us avoid bankruptcy."

That something is a sales tax.

In 2010, Rohnert Park voters approved a half-cent sales tax to maintain city services during the worst economic downtown since the Great Depression. The tax generates about $3.2 million a year, but it's scheduled to expire in 2015. The council placed Measure A on the Nov. 5 ballot to rescind the expiration date.

After a decade of deficit spending, City Manager Gabe Gonzalez said, revenue from the half-cent sales tax is the cornerstone of "a 10-year plan for us to be financially solid."

We opposed Rohnert Park's sales tax measure in 2010, calling on the city to enact spending cuts and pension reforms before asking for a tax hike.

Voters entrusted the city with a local revenue source that can't be diverted, and Gonzalez and the council delivered with budget and pension reforms.

The city realized savings of $3.3 million through its new labor contracts, which brought salaries back in line with other Sonoma County communities.

Employee concessions included lower tiers for both salaries and retirement benefits for new hires. All employees now pay their full share of pension contributions — 9 percent of salary for public safety employees, 8 percent for other employees.

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