Rohnert Park officials report slightly increased tax revenues and decreased costs — largely achieved through employee wage and benefit concessions — as the city approaches the start of its new budget year.

The budget is the subject of public hearing Tuesday at 4 p.m. at City Hall.

The proposed 2012-2013 general fund budget has expenses that exceed revenues by $2.25 million, but the city will start the budget cycle with enough cash carried over from the current year to cover that deficit, said City Manager Gabe Gonzalez.

"We've come a long ways," said Gonzalez, whom councilmembers credit with steering a financial turnaround for a city that faced a $9 million deficit four years ago.

"He has looked at the budget in a totally different way," said Councilman Joe Callinan.

The $26.1 million budget — $200,000 less than this year — projects increases in sales and property tax revenues and a 9.7 percent reduction in general government spending.

"It's bare bones, there's no fat," Gonzalez said.

A major difference, he said, is that the city is now using a method known as zero-based budgeting. That means departments don't make budget requests starting from the previous year's spending. Instead, they start from zero and build their requests with each spending item.

That, Gonzalez argues, makes for a more realistic and accountable process.

John Borba, a planning commissioner and former council candidate, said the city needs to redirect its priorities toward attracting higher-paying employers.

"We can't be looking at a year-to-year budget, we have to be looking longterm," he said. "Really what we need is a longterm plan to bring about decent job growth."

Callinan sounded a similar note, saying, "We can't cut any more than we have."

He said the city has to capitalize on the planned launch in the fall of full operations at Sonoma State University's Green Music Center and also on the proposed Indian casino, for which ground could be broken this summer on the city's west side.

The music center is "going to be a bundle of cash for us if we do it right," he said. "And the casino is coming, unfortunately ... so we need to attract some of those dollars."

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or