Santa Rosa is planning to streamline its budget process this year by disbanding the council budget subcommittee.

The three council members assigned to the committee decided at their first meeting last month that the committee was unnecessary and potentially counterproductive, said Councilman John Sawyer.

"I've come to understand that sometimes we shouldn't be doing something just because we've been doing it," Sawyer said.

The committee's primary responsibility has been to review the upcoming year's proposed budget and make suggestions to the city manager before the budget returns to the full council for review, Sawyer explained.

But this created several problems. One was the impression by some department heads that getting through the budget subcommittee amounted to "tacit approval" of the full council, he said.

In addition, having three well-informed council members and four who are less so created a disparity on the council, Sawyer said.

"I think it did not encourage as much conversation as if everyone was getting it fresh for the first time," Sawyer said.

On top of that, the process was duplicative, requiring the city's budget team to make two separate sets of presentations, he said.

City Manager Kathy Millison and Chief Financial Officer Laurence Chiu both concurred with the committee's recommendation.

"I think it's a very good idea," Chiu said.

The change, which goes before the council next week, could help simplify the city's budget process, which is getting a later start, Sawyer said.

In previous years, the subcommittee would have made its recommendations by mid-March. This year, the council won't have its first study sessions on the budget until early May. Budget hearings begin in June and the budget needs to be place before the start of the fiscal year July 1.

The city needs to close an anticipated $3.9 million gap between the $116 million in anticipated general fund revenues and the $120 million in expenses. That's after a $6 million infusion of additional sales tax passed by voters last year.

The forecast assumes a more than $10 million increase in expenses over the current yea<NO1><NO>r. Rising pension and health care costs are two of the main reasons for the projected increase, Chiu said.

Another is rising salaries. Most city employees agreed to furloughs this year equal to between 3 and 5 percent of salary, but those concessions only run through the end of the year. The forecast does not assume new concessions because that is a matter for negotiation, Chiu said.