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In an era of government layoffs and painful budget cuts, the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District plans to increase spending by about 6 percent this year.

The board will vote on the proposed spending plan Wednesday night.

The majority of the $8.6 million budget will go toward employee salaries and benefits, which will be increased, along with other chunks to be spent on solar panels, new computers and trucks.

Precisely how the spending is changing at the district is difficult to pin down because it has issued four different proposed budget documents in the past month, and board members and the press were given different versions to review. Also, the dollar amounts listed for how much was budgeted and spent in an "approved final budget" for the year that ended June 30 have been changed in the various versions.

Board members delayed voting on the 2011-12 budget at their June meeting after several complained they weren't given enough information. Now, though, several said they were confident they would have enough information at Wednesday's meeting to vote.

"I think it's quite an interesting situation that we didn't get as much information as we usually do. It seemed like there was some miscommunication," said Tamara Davis, who represents Sonoma County on the board. "And typically we find that the manager keeps us well informed and gives us lots of information beyond what we're needing."

Jim Wanderscheid, the general manager who's responsible for the budget, said he prepared a brief budget document for the June meeting because that's what the budget committee directed him to do.

"It was just a miscommunication," he said. "There's no conspiracy to hide anything."

Wanderscheid also said he had not wanted to release a full, line-item budget before it was approved by the board because the working documents would contain numbers that would change, and that would confuse the public.

The budget proposal dated June 29 calls for $8.6 million in spending, a 6 percent increase over last year. The proposal calls for spending $1.3 million more than the district expects to receive in revenues.

The deficit spending is possible because the district is starting the budget year with a surplus of about $10 million.

The document projects that salary and benefit spending will increase 6 percent. That's because the district is in the midst of a four-year contract with its workers that provides a series of raises intended to make it more competitive with other mosquito districts in the state, said former board president Tom Bradner, who represents the city of Larkspur.

"Because of some pretty prudent management over the years, we have a little more flexibility than a lot of cities and counties do, and we felt it was wrong for our people to be paid less than what was sort of a standard in the industry," Bradner said.

The district also is planning to spend $240,000 for eight new trucks. Brander said the vehicles are used five days a week, so it becomes more expensive to maintain them than it does to replace them.

"How many miles were on the old trucks? Do they need replacing now? That's an issue," said board member Frank Egger, who has been critical of the district's spending.

Twenty six new laptops will be purchased for $38,000 because the district is getting new software to better track the locations of trouble spots and where the trucks are spraying, Wanderscheid said.

The district also plans to spend $30,000 more than last year on a public relations firm and a $60,000 increase for training, education and travel expenses. The district also plans to spend $211,000 on publications and legal notices.

"I notice we're spending a lot of money in communications and public relations, and I'm not sure we need to be spending that kind of money during these times," Egger said.

The public relations firm will be used to conduct training on media and outreach and to audit the public relations department, as they have in previous years, said Nizza Sequeira, the district public relations director.

After the board approves the budget, Wanderscheid has the authority to change how the money is allocated as long as the total does not exceed the budgeted amount, he and several board members said.

Wanderscheid said the board gave him authority years ago to shift money around within the budget without seeking their approval.

"It's all done above-board," Wanderscheid said. "The auditor knows about it. There's nothing hidden."

Sandy Ross, a board member who represents Mill Valley, said there is a division of opinion on whether the general manager should have so much latitude. Some board members believe Wanderscheid's hands shouldn't be tied while others believe there should be more financial control, Ross said.

"Jim runs this place from the top down, so we don't get a lot a lot of information," Ross said. "He's had that style there forever."

Ross said she understands that it would be frustrating to have to explain budget details to new members of the board year after year and said Wanderscheid has been doing a good job.

The district also will spend $200,000 on solar panel installation, the second-year of a two-year project that totalled $660,000.

"I think it's a responsible thing to do," Ross said. "After all, we should set an example for others to reduce our footprint as much as we can."

The board is to vote on the budget at 7 p.m. Wednesday at its headquarters at 595 Helman Lane, Cotati.