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County budget would cut programs large and small

  • PC: Sonoma County Sheriff's helicopter, Henry 1, takes flight Tuesday at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa.

    2/26/2003: B1: Henry 1 takes flight Tuesday at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa. While the $1.5 million helicopter program is considered a luxury by some, Sheriff Bill Cogbill says it is an effective department tool.

A sheriff's unit that specializes in bomb disposal, another dedicated to solving community crime issues and a panel that hands out nearly $600,000 annually to groups caring for the needy are all slated for elimination under the proposed Sonoma County budget released this week.

From tax collection to park maintenance, pest control to road upkeep, the proposal unveiled by County Administrator Veronica Ferguson would slash spending and services at most departments, affecting programs large and small.

Those include the Sheriff's Office helicopter Henry 1, at a $1.9 million annual cost, and $22,000 the county provides for crossing guards at five school districts — Mark West, Forestville, Sonoma Valley, Petaluma and Roseland. Both programs would be axed to help fill a $42.8 million gap in the county's 2011-2012 general fund.

Other efforts that have been cut in previous years or kept whole at the last minute would be trimmed. They include programs targeting domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault crimes, and those offering assistance for veterans, the mentally ill and substance abusers.

The spending plan is driven by a second straight year of declining property tax revenue, the main source of county funding. Together with a drop in other tax and interest earnings, total general fund revenue is projected to be down more than $11 million from the current year.

Ferguson, who is now into the second year at her post, called the spending plan the most difficult in a three-year string of reduced county budgets. Her hope, she said, was to preserve core county services.

"They are all terrible," she said of the cuts.

The proposal would reduce spending from the general fund — the county's main source of discretionary money — to $379 million, down 4 percent from the 2010-2011 figure of $395 million.

It does so by taking a bigger bite out of law enforcement and justice services, the single largest destination for general fund dollars. Spending at those four departments, including the Sheriff's, District Attorney's and Public Defender's offices and the probation department is set to drop by 16 percent.

Sheriff Steve Freitas and District Attorney Jill Ravitch refused to sign off on the cuts, saying the reductions for their offices would jeopardize public safety.

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