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Close to Home: An unbalanced city budget serves no one

  • The Santa Rosa City Hall, east entrance. web

Last Tuesday I made a difficult decision to put off short-term spending in consideration of long-term impacts on our city.

Let me be clear. I value city employees and want them to be compensated appropriately for their hard work. I am glad that our employees got raises on Tuesday. I especially wanted to ensure that raises went to employee groups that do not have equity in their total compensation. And I wanted to give raises to employees who have had no raises for several years.

However, just as I voted “no” on the overall budget for the city, I will be voting “no” on all the multi-year contracts with our employee groups until our mayor presents to the citizens how he will pay for these increased expenditures.

The mayor and council majority are sending us down the wrong road (and it’s unpaved). We need to be on the road toward full sustainable financial recovery. The limited financial projections we do have show the city in the red by 2015-16 even without these salary increases — and with a projected annual growth of 2 percent in our city revenues.

I support either a substantial bonus or a one-year raise for all city employees. I have agreed to this from the beginning of bargaining process starting a year ago. However, I do not support additional raises over a longer period of time, not until we have a financial plan to enable us to make long-term commitments based on a balanced budget.

When I asked for the long-range plan from our mayor and city manager, I was told the city had none. We have never seen a model with the proposed raises included and have never seen a model showing a long-term benefit to increasing salaries at a rate higher than the PERS contribution used to justify the salary increase.

The recent history of our city is a roller coaster of over-spending followed by drastic reductions. No one wants Santa Rosa to have to decrease staffing in the future because of rash decisions made on wishful thinking now. This City Council has allowed this to happen before. I will not contribute to it happening again.

The mayor stated he had no idea where the money would come from to pay for the salary increases. He, and the council majority want to risk our city’s future on blind optimism. I believe it is my fiduciary responsibility to be realistically cautious — and to have a long-term sustainable plan with an honest budget based on realistic projections.

Despite my continual requests starting two years ago to place Measure O on the ballot to correct its unintended consequences, the mayor and the council majority have done nothing. In fact, the majority repeated this year its excuse from two years ago: There is not enough time to correct Measure O. When will be the time?

Bottom-line, I cannot support new expenditures by our city without properly researched fiscal projections, an honest budget and a sustainable spending plan. I am surprised any council member can.

Julie Combs is a member of the Santa Rosa City Council.


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