By ERIN CARLSTROM
The city of Santa Rosa is headed in a dangerous direction. Next week, the City Council will be taking up the 2011-2012 budget in a series of hearings, but even before these hearings have taken place it looks as if the City Council has decided to take a direction that will gut the quality of life in Santa Rosa.
The city manager’s original budget proposed equitable cuts spread across city services, using taxpayer-approved Measure P funds to help support all of our city’s vital services. The original budget preserved most parks and recreation funds, kept pools open and maintained adequate levels of police and fire services. Instead, revisions requested by certain council members are forcing the city to cut important community services, especially in our Parks and Recreations Department, to bolster the police union that supported their campaigns.
This raid on our city’s parks and pools is egregious as the revised current budget proposal includes not just maintaining police services but actually expanding staff by filling vacant positions and adding an “analyst” to the department. As a member of the Measure O oversight committee, I have had the opportunity to review the city’s crime rates and these funding proposals in detail. They do not make sense for our community.
First, the programs being disproportionately cut are important for keeping our community’s youth out of trouble in the first place, before they are exposed to gang or other criminal activity. Recreational programs are healthy alternatives to joining gangs and provide vital opportunities for our children to advance in the future.
As a child, I had the opportunity to participate in swimming programs, which led to my being recruited by an Ivy League university for my education. The structure and physical outlet provided by these programs kept me focused and out of trouble. Investing in programs such as swimming, soccer and other community activities for our youth is important because they represent an investment in our community’s future.
Second, the council’s current budget does not recognize the reality of the current fiscal situation facing Santa Rosans. The economic downturn has impacted us all. While we have been suffering as a community, losing services and tightening our belts, our police officers have not joined in the significant sacrifices being made by their neighbors and fellow officers across the state.
Recently, the city has gained concessions from almost every other group of employees in the city. They even took the drastic action of imposing a contract on the road maintenance workers, but they have not gotten the same concessions from our police. Many of the upper echelons have continued to collect unsustainable salary and pension perks, while other city employees have had to make significant sacrifices.
For a department with 45 percent of the city’s most highly paid employees (in excess of $100,000 a year), it is appalling that the city has not received any concessions from these public servants, and it’s a shame that the proposed revisions don’t treat the rest of our community so kindly.
We are a city that is more than just police officers. We are a city that last year voted to fund our recreation programs for children, adults and seniors. We have stood up and taxed ourselves to keep these services open, but now it looks as if the City Council is going to misappropriate these funds and gut the core of our city.
I urge you to demand equal concessions from all sectors of our government. The budget hearings will be held on June 14, 15 and 16.
Erin Carlstrom is a member of the Santa Rosa Measure O Oversight Committee, a local business owner and president of the Redwood Business Alliance.