Sonoma County adopts $1.78 billion budget, restoring millions in proposed cuts
Sonoma County supervisors approved a $1.78 billion budget Friday that sets aside millions of dollars for unforeseen expenses, a possible recession, emergency response and recovery and a host of health services while cutting only nine jobs from a 4,000-member workforce.
The spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 also dedicates up to $6.8 million to unfunded pension obligations, which officials said was the largest single prepayment in county history on an obligation that totals about $370 million.
In two day-long budget hearings earlier in the week, the supervisors erased $14 million in cuts made in County Administrator Sheryl Bratton’s proposed 234-page budget by granting requests from county department heads. The board also approved $10 million for new programs and $3 million in requests from individual supervisors and community organizations.
Those actions left about $15 million in funding requests unfulfilled, which officials hailed as an achievement.
“We showed some restraint,” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. “It’s important to show restraint.”
“I think we’re in a good place,” Board Chairman David Rabbitt told an audience of several dozen department heads and other administrators, also acknowledging the shortcomings.
“I know there are still so many things you want that are out there,” he said expressing hope that future budgets would provide more revenue.
Officials noted that about $4.4 million in one-time funds were applied to ongoing expenses — including eight jobs, with six in health services — which will have to be reconsidered in the 2020-21 budget.
Sound budgeting policy holds that you match ongoing funding with ongoing expenses, reserving one-time funds for nonrecurring expenses.
The supervisors have discretion over just $320 million in the general fund, about 18% of the budget dominated by state and federal funds earmarked for programs beyond local control.
The board acted quickly, approving the budget in just an hour Friday morning, after marathon sessions Tuesday and Wednesday hashing over a spreadsheet that started with more than 100 budget items.
The lighter workload Friday morning even allowed some family time.
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins’ infant son, Linden, wearing a white knit cap, cooed pleasantly during the meeting, nestled in both his mother’s and Zane’s laps.
Opening Wednesday’s meeting, Supervisor James Gore remarked that “gambling and cannabis are saving our budget this year.”
Nearly $11 million in funds paid by the Graton Resort & Casino since 2013 contributed to the budget, along with $2.6 million in cannabis taxes, fines, fees and penalties collected since 2017.
On the negative side, the county was short $5.6 million in property tax revenue in the wake of the 2017 wildfires.
On Tuesday, Rabbitt noted the need for a “soft landing” with cash reserves to offset a recession, and Supervisor Susan Gorin, a former Santa Rosa councilwoman, recalled the “painful” experience of managing city finances during a historic slump.
Among their decisions Friday, the supervisors set aside $2.5 million in an “economic uncertainty” fund to help weather a downturn “economists are predicting will likely happen at the end of 2020,” according to a county press release.
Another $2.5 million was earmarked to replenish reserves “to make sure we’re not at the rock bottom level,” Rabbitt said.