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Sonoma County set to increase spending; more allocated for road repair

With the worst recession-driven woes apparently behind them, Sonoma County supervisors are set to consider increased spending on some core services and public infrastructure when they begin hearings Monday on a spending plan for the next fiscal year.

County Administrator Veronica Ferguson's proposed $1.3 billion budget foresees new investments in public safety staffing and social service and health programs, most of it funded by state and federal dollars.

It is the first time in five years that discretionary spending, represented largely by the proposed $398 million general fund, is forecast to rise, though actual year-to-year discretionary spending has increased during the period, including in the current fiscal year.

The proposed 1 percent increase would maintain the $8 million in additional funding allocated last year by supervisors for repairs to the county's beleagured road system. The total proposed support from the general fund for road work is upwards of $16 million.

Advocates for greater spending on road upkeep said they were pleased to see their pressure pay off.

"(County supervisors) keep saying they want to make roads a priority," said Michael Troy, co-founder of the group Save Our Sonoma Roads. "That's spoken by dollars."

The funding was added last week in a supplemental package and was possibly the most closely watched item in the whole proposal, a stark change from battles in recent years to save big-ticket services and programs slated for elimination.

In contrast, Ferguson called the 2013-2014 proposal a "steady-state budget" — the first in her 3.5-year county tenure after last year's flat spending plan to avoid cuts in services and staff.

The challenge now is to hold down spending in most areas and be disciplined about how the county reinvests, Ferguson said.

"Do we say it's all bright and sunny?" she said "The reality is in budgeting you have to be more responsible than that."

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