By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park is considering an unusual way to pay for some city services.
Interim Assistant City Manager John Dunn has proposed that the city, which faces a $1 million budget deficit, start a foundation to raise money for city events such as the city’s upcoming 50th anniversary celebration.
“It’s really another kind of innovative way to look at city government in the present and future circumstances where revenues are going to be much more restricted than in the past,” Dunn said.
He said that funding cultural programs would likely be the foundation’s focus rather than basic city services. But he said recreation, traditionally funded largely by the city’s general fund, might also benefit.
In a report to the council, which will consider the idea Tuesday night, Dunn acknowledges that it is an uncommon approach.
There are two chief reason for that, he said.
First, citizens have the perception that “government has or should have all the money it needs through taxes and other compulsory means of collection,” he said. Second, people need to be sure that what they contribute goes to its intended purpose and not mixed with other city funds.
If the first perception can be changed and the second concern assuaged, the foundation might gain traction as a way for citizens to support the community, he said.
“The city can no longer go it alone,” he said.
The concept is not entirely new for Rohnert Park, which turned to private citizens to build an endowment for Dorothy Spreckels Performing Arts Center. A similar idea several years ago didn’t make it off the drawing board.
Councilwoman Pam Stafford suggested Monday that a foundation might have a range of goals, depending on what residents want. “It might be recreation, it might be lights in the park,” she said. “If people want to do something like that, this program’s a good way to do it.”
Dunn, in his report, cites as a potential model Fountain Valley, an Orange County city of roughly the same size and median household income as Rohnert Park, that started a city foundation in 2008. Fountain Valley officials did not return calls Monday seeking comment.
Dunn said that outside recreation, the foundation would be unlikely to contribute to the types of services that are generally thought of as being under the city’s purview, such as police and fire services or planning functions.
“At this time hard and fast rules have not been set up, but as a general principle it would not be used to support the general operations of the city government,” he said.
Cotati, the city’s far smaller neighbor, has funded its police K-9 unit, not including the officer’s costs, for about five years with citizen donations. K-9 officer Chris Kaupe said a new round of fundraising letters just went out, and that donations have traditionally come from not only Cotati but around the county.
The dog, Koda, costs about $6,500 a year to maintain, Kaupe said.