A budget battle continues to take shape in Santa Rosa over whether cutting public safety spending would violate the will of the voters, who twice passed measures supporting police and fire services.
Mayor Ernesto Olivares and Councilman John Sawyer last month balked at City Manager Kathy Millison's proposed 2011-12 budget, which calls for a $700,000 reduction — 1.7 percent — in the police department's current $40.1 million budget.
That would put the department $2 million below its 2004 level, adjusted for inflation, and both councilmen said that made them uncomfortable given that voters that year overwhelmingly passed Measure O, the quarter-percent sales tax to enhance public safety levels.
So Millison and her finance team returned Tuesday with a stark presentation of just what city services would look like if the police budget were boosted by $2 million next year over her proposal.
What it showed was that restoring funding to such levels would force an array of cuts to other city services, including the closure of a city pool and senior center, layoffs of city workers, the brownout of an additional fire station, and new fees such as a $5 per day parking fee at Howarth Park.
All told, the new cuts were expected to cut an additional 14.5 positions from the city staff, beyond the 22 positions Millison's draft budget already called for from city general fund, which pays for most discretionary city services.
Several of those positions would come from public works, where street lights would take longer to get fixed, if at all, and pot holes wouldn't get patched as regularly, said department director Rick Moshier.
"It's just getting harder and harder to keep cutting the budget and not cut something people really want," Moshier said.
Olivares said he was disappointed that Millison proposed spreading the $2 million in cuts out over all city departments, including fire, which he said voters wanted to see enhanced, not cut. Options outlined by fire officials included increasing the number of days Station 11 on Lewis road was closed or instituting a emergency response fee.
"What I'm seeing here is a big reduction in fire services and I'm not ready to go there," Olivares said.
Olivares, a former police lieutenant, received back-up in his push to support police department funding levels from Officer Brad Conners, spokesman for the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association.
Conners noted that Measure O and Measure P, which passed last fall, explicitly called for enhancement or support of police services. But in 2004, the department had 160 approved positions, and today that number is 142, with just 136 officers on the street.
"These number also clearly show that public safety services have not been improved and expanded upon as Measure O promised the voters," Conners said.
He said the results of those two measures, which passed by 70 percent and 57 percent of the vote, respectively, showed that Santa Rosa voters "are willing to tax themselves in order to have a safe community, as their elected representatives you have a duty to carry out their will."
But Councilman Gary Wysocky said restoring department budgets to 2004 levels ignores the impact of the financial crisis of 2008 and resulting recession, which he said "reset everything."