WatchSonoma Watch

County looks to cut spending on parks


The popular Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach swimming area could fall victim to budget cuts under a proposal endorsed Tuesday by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

As part of $1.2 million in spending cuts for the county’s Regional Parks Department, board members deleted funding for raising of the historic summer dam and operation of the recreational lagoon it creates.

Ciara Graham, 2, of Santa Rosa, throws rocks in the water with her dad during opening day for Healdsburg Veteran Memorial Beach. (CRISTA JEREMIASON/PD)

Today, supervisors will tackle the sensitive issues of cutting the Sheriff’s, District Attorney’s and Probation Department staffs. More than 74 positions are on the block, including 11 deputies, 12 correctional officer and three prosecutors.

But on Tuesday, board members focused on the parks system, and its decisions will reduce upkeep of trails and restrooms, provide less frequent removal of garbage and weeds and result in slower graffiti removal.

Two permanent parks jobs and 25 to 30 part-time seasonal lifeguard, maintenance and attendant slots also would be cut under the proposal tentatively approved during the second day of hearings focused on the county’s $61.6 million general fund deficit for the upcoming budget year.

“We’re not closing any parks, but people will definitely see they will not be as manicured,” said County Regional Parks Director Mary Burns.

The county’s 44 regional parks currently receive more than 40 percent of their funding from the county, including $4.2 million in general fund money. The system was hit with a 16 percent spending cut in the current fiscal year and the plan approved Tuesday enforces an additional 20 percent cut for the budget year starting July 1.

Next year, restrooms in parks along the Russian River will be cleaned only on weekends, trash cans emptied weekly and field maintenance such as mowing done only as needed for fire safety.

“People are going to see changes,” said Burns.

The reduced spending could a big change at Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach. As part of its oversight of seven veterans facilities, the county operates the Russian River swimming area on about $80,000 a year, including funds for the seasonal dam, lifeguards and beach upkeep. Under a plan given the nod Tuesday, about half of that funding will be available next year, a scenario that officials say will result in no dam in 2011 and closure of the swimming lagoon. The beach, a smaller wading area and minimal lifeguard staffing could still be supported.

County officials plan to approach the city of Healdsburg for help in paying for the recreational site, which is scheduled to open this year by July 1.

But the city’s fiscal situation also is shaky, requiring layoffs in the past two years. “Based on our current challenges, we don’t have the resources to help,” said David Mickaelian, Healdsburg’s assistant manager, who oversees parks.

Supervisors indicated that they intend to restore about $25,000 in funding that was initially proposed to be cut from a parks program that provides job training to the developmentally disabled. The money would come from hotel tax funds.

On Tuesday, supervisors also reviewed the budget plans of the county’s open space district and advertising department and the county’s oversight of In-Home Supportive Services, a mostly state and federally-funded program that’s slated for large cuts under proposals being considered in Sacramento.

On Monday supervisors backed a plan to use $1.2 million in federal stimulus funds for health programs to save two in-home care jobs, a handful of child welfare and veterans service jobs and about $600,000 in grant funding overseen by the county’s Human Services Commission.

They also endorse more than 80 of 95 proposed layoffs and the elimination of about 90 of 156 vacant positions.

On Wednesday afternoon, supervisors will discuss how they might save 68 jobs and associated services — totaling nearly $9 million in costs — through money they hope to save through employee wage concessions.

Before that discussion and a later formal vote on the budget, supervisors are set to review the budget plans for the Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s offices and the Probation Department.

Those departments account for more than half of all general fund spending, projected at $395 million for the coming fiscal year.

Within the Sheriff’s Office, the proposal would reduce general fund spending by $7.3 million. It would eliminate about 31 unfilled positions, including 11 deputy slots, and lay off 12 employees, mostly correctional officers. It could also result in the elimination of a community policing program and associated graffiti abatement efforts, and funding for two domestic violence counselors.

At the District Attorney’s Office, a $1.3 million reduction in general fund money would eliminate eight vacant positions, including four deputy attorney slots, and investigator job and a victim and witness advocate.

At the Probation Department, among other cuts, officials have proposed eliminating about 23 vacant positions — mostly juvenile correctional counselors and probation officer slots — laying off one employee and closing the Sierra Youth Center, a 20-bed residential facility east of Santa Rosa that serves female juvenile offenders.

“It’s a tough cut,” said Chief Probation Officer Robert Ochs. “It’s a very tough cut.”

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