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.

<NO1>"We're in what I characterize as a fiscal recovery," Millison said. "But we still have a lot of challenges."

<NO>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.

<NO1>That includes an 8 percent increase to the parks and recreation department<NO><NO1>and a 3 percent increase to the police department, including a $700,000 bump to get the department closer <NO><NO1>to<NO><NO1> the level pre<NO><NO1>scribed by Measure O, the voter-approved sales tax measure.

The fire department's <NO><NO1>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.

<NO><NO1>General fund revenues are expected to come in at $125.5 million next year, <NO><NO1>$2.1 million higher than expenses.<NO><NO1> That means the city should be able to keep $20.3 million in reserve<NO><NO1>, or about 16.4 percent of expenses. The council's goal is<NO><NO1> 15 percent<NO><NO1>.

<NO>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 <NO1>water and sewer<NO>infrastructure.

Tuesday, beginning at noon, the City Council will hear presentations from recreation and parks, police and fire, as well as administrative departments. <NO1>That wi<NO><NO1>ll be followed on<NO><NO1> May 14 by economic development and housing, community development, information technology, transportation and public works and utilities.

<NO>Formal budget hearings take place in June.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or