By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Up to three days of hearings on Santa Rosa’s proposed budget begin Tuesday afternoon, but the weighty debate may not start until the following day.
The public hearing on the city’s proposed 2011-12 spending plan is scheduled to begin sometime after 5 p.m. and continue Wednesday and Thursday mornings if necessary.
One of the core issues — funding for the police and fire departments — is scheduled to come up at the Wednesday session, which is expected to begin about 10 a.m. after a closed-door session on labor negotiations.
City Manager Kathy Millison originally proposed a $115.1 million general fund budget that spread cuts across city services.
But city council members including Mayor Ernesto Olivares urged Millison to restore $2 million to public safety, $1.3 million to keep a fire station open and $750,000 to preserve five police positions.
He said deeper cuts would conflict with two measures approved by voters, 2004’s Measure O, a sales tax specific to public safety and gang prevention, and Measure P, last fall’s sales tax for “vital city services” that refers prominently to public safety services.
Millison now is proposing to fund those increases through $1 million in employee concessions, $700,000 in cuts to non-public safety departments and the elimination of a $350,000 surplus.
The additional expenditures would boost the general fund budget to $116.7 million, a $7.8 million increase, or 7 percent, over the current budget.
The bulk of the additional revenue is coming from the $6.5 million in additional sales tax from Measure P, plus $520,000 in expected revenue from the imposition of a $5 daily parking fee at Howarth Park.
It is unlikely that negotiations with unions over concessions will be resolved by the time the budget takes effect on July 1, Millison said. If concessions can’t be reached by the end of the first quarter, further cuts would need to be made, Millison said.
Because the budget proposes spending less on police than the $41.6 million baseline set by Measure O, the council needs six votes to agree to go below that level.
If the council can’t muster six votes, then by June 30 Millison would be required to implement a budget with an additional $1.2 million for police and equivalent cuts elsewhere.