As the Santa Rosa City Council looks to cut deeper from the ever-shrinking portion of the budget pie not devoted to public safety, here are some facts to consider.
Between 1995 and 2008, police and fire department spending, as a share of Santa Rosa’s general fund, grew from 43.9 percent to 55.1 percent, a 25 percent increase.
At that time, according to a story by former Staff Writer Mike McCoy, 256 Santa Rosa employees were making in excess of $100,000 a year. Thirty percent of those employees worked for the Fire Department. Forty-five percent for the Police Department.
Then the economy went in the tank, and with it went the finances of communities all across the state, including Santa Rosa’s. The city’s general fund is now $109 million, $22 million less than it was three years ago.
But what has happened to public safety’s share of the budget? It surpassed 60 percent last year and threatens to grow closer to fully two-thirds of the city’s general fund with recent decisions by the City Council majority to give more to public safety while taking from other areas.
Earlier this month, the city manager had proposed a number of cuts, including to the police and fire department budgets. But by directive from the City Council, the city manager restored more than $2 million in funding to public safety — $1.3 million to fire and $750,000 to police — while pledging to find the money to keep open community centers and Ridgway Pool.
How she was going to do that was something of a mystery. But last week it became clear. She will cut $700,000 from other departments and seek more concessions from public employees — non-public safety employees that is.
Public safety clearly is important. But does Santa Rosa want to be more than that? Moreover, is it fair to continue cutting from non-public safety areas — where most public employees have already made concessions — while preserving public safety, which has made few to none?
On that note, here’s a harsh truth. Last November, voters approved Measure P, a quarter-cent sales tax that was expected to raise $6 million a year to prevent draconian cuts in city services.
But most of that money, it appears, will go into increased salaries and benefits instead. As Guy Kovner reported last week, the city’s general fund expenditures are expected to climb this year to $116 million due to a $2.9 million increase in retirement costs for employees, $1.2 million in health insurance costs, and $1.4 million in scheduled salary increases. That would include a 6 percent salary increase for firefighters and an 8 percent increase for fire managers.
The City Council majority contends that in keeping public safety whole while seemingly dismantling everything else, they’re keeping a promise to voters made in 2004 during the passage of Measure O.
I don’t remember Santa Rosa residents ever saying this is how they wanted their money spent. And even if they did, one thing should be obvious. We aren’t in 2004 anymore.
— Paul Gullixson