Santa Rosa budget features more spending, more employees

The Santa Rosa City Council, enjoying slightly improved revenues from a modest economic recovery, this week will consider a budget representing the largest boost in city spending since the recession-era slashing began.

City Manager Kathy Millison's proposed $340 million budget would be a 9 percent increase over the current year and would include hiring the equivalent of 22 new full-time positions, including police officers, fire fighters, wastewater workers and financial analysts.

In her letter to the council, Millison said the $29 million in additional spending is needed to invest in infrastructure and fill "critical needs" the city faces as a result of years of cuts. She also stressed that while budget had stabilized, rising costs made it necessary for the city to find ways to provide "service levels that are more acceptable to the community's needs and expectations."

When the nearly $50 million in capital improvement projects are removed — many of them funded by water and sewer ratepayers — Millison said the operating expenditures increase would be 4 percent over current year.

"It's good to be in an era of stability in terms of our budget," Mayor Scott Bartley said. "We're not on fire, but we're modestly up."

Bartley said the new positions have been "pretty carefully considered."

"We're adding them back in where we cut too far before," Bartley said.

The police and fire departments, which benefit from a dedicated ?-percent sales tax known as Measure O, are set to receive the majority of the new staffing, though not all of it will increase their budgets.

The Police Department budget woukld increase 2.4 percent next year, to $45.5 million. The department is proposing to spend an additional $700,000 for 6.5 new fulltime positions, including sworn officers and civilians, to bring it closer to the baseline established by Measure O.

That increase was hotly debated in a previous budget session and likely will be so again this week.

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