Santa Rosa passed a no-growth budget Tuesday that some council members praised as evidence the city's finances are on the mend and others lambasted as failing to solve the city's long-term financial woes.
A modest increase in sales tax revenue combined with employee concessions helped the city build a $117 million general fund budget that despite being the same size as this year finds room to add $1.2 million to the police department and socks away $1.4 million for a rainy day.
Several council members expressed relief that revenues have stabilized and deep budget cuts of prior years appear to be a thing of the past.
"It's a good budget. It's refreshing not to be looking at doom and gloom," said Councilman Scott Bartley.
But other council members expressed disappointment the city isn't doing more to prepare for the day when Measure P, the quarter-cent sales tax for core services, sunsets in six years.
"For all the talk we've heard about long-term budgeting, I see nothing about that in this budget," said Councilman Gary Wysocky, the only member of the council to vote against the budget, which passed on a 6-1 vote.
The total city budget of $311.5 million, which begins July 1, is $4 million lower than the current budget and the lowest in more than five years. Much of the $4 million drop is attributable to the loss of the city's redevelopment agency.
City Manager Kathy Millison outlined many of the cost-saving efforts the city has taken that should help for years to come. For example, the city just refinanced just over $60 million in wastewater debt at a lower interest rate of 3.9 percent. In the process, one of the city's bond ratings was increased, a vote of confidence in its improved finances.
"We went from a stable condition to a more positive position. That was pretty significant," Millison said.
The city also will eventually see lower employee costs in coming years, she said. The two-tiered pension system that imposed less generous benefits on new workers should, over the next eight years, affect 300 to 500 new workers, she said.
<NO1>She called it a credit to Santa Rosa that the city was able to negotiate pension changes cooperatively with employees instead of adversarially in court or at the ballot box.
<NO>"We're not done. We want to make that very clear," Millison said. "Our employees are well aware that our next discussion is going to be about cost-sharing."
The city expects to have just under 1,200 full-time employees next year, the same as this year but well below the 1,382 it employed four years ago.
More difficult decisions lie ahead, however. Millison cited Tuesday night's decision not to spend money to fix up the city building that is home to local food bank FISH &#8211; Friends in Service Here.
"Unfortunately, I think that's a preview of the kinds of tough choices that you're going to be dealing with for quite a while now because everything in this budget is about a choice," she said.
The general fund budget is projected to be flat, up from $116.6 to $116.9 million. Revenues, however, are expected to increase by $2 million, up from $117.9 million to $119.8 million next year.
Shelters for Pawnee fire evacuees
Lower Lake High School, 9430 Lake St., Lower Lake, is the official shelter established for people evacuating from the Pawnee fire. It is equipped to handle animals.
The Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge, 15900 E. Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks, is not authorized by the Office of Emergency Services but is also sheltering fire evacuees, mostly people in campers and RVs who want their animals with them.
There is an authorized Lake County animal services station in an open field at Highway 53 and Anderson Ridge Road in Lower Lake.