By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma city leaders Thursday night approved funding cuts for several programs that are popular with youths and seniors during a public meeting to address the city’s budget woes.
A majority of council members supported a 12 percent funding reduction for four nonprofit agencies that essentially provide park and recreation services for the city. That amount is equal to reductions mandated for other city departments.
The net effect of those reductions may not be dramatic as city money makes up a relatively small fraction of each nonprofit’s operating budget.
The reductions also amounted to a minor dent in the city’s general fund deficit, which after Thursday’s meeting at the Police Department stood at about $154,000.
Council members tentatively identified an additional $111,200 in cuts, all for what are considered nonessential city services.
The single largest proposed cut could result in the city’s water rates being raised to recoup $100,000 that the city currently spends to water parks and open spaces.
City leaders acknowledged that such a move would engender controversy.
“I just want to reiterate that that’s not a final decision,” City Manager Linda Kelly said after a member of the audience went to the podium to lodge his objection.
Thursday’s discussion came against the backdrop of a third year of flat growth in Sonoma. Kelly told council members that they cannot continue to cut their way out of the problem but must identify more sources of revenue.
She recommended that council members consider asking voters to approve a 2 percent increase in bed taxes that would raise a projected $440,000 and help ease the city’s budget crunch.
She also said the council should “cautiously” explore whether to create a tourism improvement district in a revenue-sharing deal with local hotels and inns.
Council members also could choose to dip into the city’s financial reserves for a second year in a row to bridge the shortfall. They are hoping to formally adopt a budget at their June 20 meeting.
The only firm action the council took Thursday was approving the 12 percent reduction — equivalent to $16,800 — for the four nonprofits, which combined had sought $140,000.
“Times are tough,” said Councilman Tom Rouse, who made the motion for the reduced allocation. “We’re all looking at ways to cut back.”
Councilman Ken Brown did not find any council support for fully funding the Sonoma Valley Boys and Girls Club and the Vintage House Senior Center. Brown said both programs are undergoing dramatic growth.
Also being cut are the Sonoma Ecology Center and the Sonoma Community Center.
The Boys and Girls Club will receive $51,040, about $7,000 less than what its executive director, Dave Pier, had asked for.
He pointed out after the council’s vote that the city’s contribution is the lowest amount given to the club since 1998.
But Pier could not predict Thursday night how the reduced funding might affect the club’s programs.
“Time will tell on that,” he said.