WatchSonoma Watch

Split Santa Rosa Council approves budget


A divided Santa Rosa City Council approved a $315 million budget Wednesday that preserves police and fire services and keeps open popular city facilities like pools, but pays for those services in some unpopular ways, including a parking fee at Howarth Park.

A council majority, on a 4-3 vote, endorsed a spending plan that provides a higher level of police and fire service than originally proposed while limiting cuts to other services most noticeable to the public.

“It’s the best that I believe we can do at this point,” Mayor Ernesto Olivares said.

The three dissenting council members said they were unhappy with the way public safety budgets were being spared deeper cuts at the expense of other city departments.

“I think it’s exactly the wrong time to put some additional funding into police and fire,” Councilwoman Susan Gorin.

The second day of budget hearings wrapped up by mid-afternoon Wednesday with little comment from the public but plenty of sparring among rival council members.

The council approved a 7 percent increase, to $116.6 million, in the city’s general fund, the portion of the budget over which it has the most control.

Olivares, Jake Ours, John Sawyer and Scott Bartley supported it, while Gorin, Gary Wysocky and Marsha Vas Dupre were opposed.

The main changes to the preliminary budget proposed by City Manager Kathy Millison were to prevent the closure of Fire Station 10 in the southwest, which would have saved $1.3 million, and to restore $750,000 in funding to the police department for two officers downtown and two in schools.

Those additions mean the fire department spending will spike 12 percent in the budget that begins in July, to $29.9 million, and the police department’s expenditures will increase 1percent, to $40.4 million.

The increase in the fire budget drew significant scrutiny. Station 10, which is open half-time to save money, is one of the least busy stations in the city because anticipated growth in that part of the city hasn’t materialized, Interim Fire Chief Mark McCormick said.

Wysocky said he prefers using the savings from closing the station to boost operations at the busier Station 11 on Lewis Road.

Bartley noted that when Station 10 is closed, other fire units do a good job of serving the southwest area, with response times increasing by less than 30 seconds on average.

“I haven’t heard a compelling reason for maintaining that station open,” he said.

He said he’d rather use the $1.3 million to boost reserves in case the state once again turns to the cities to help resolve its budget crisis. Nevertheless, he voted to keep the station open for now.

While up slightly, the police department’s budget remains $1.2 million under the $41.6 million baseline set by Measure O, the quarter of a percent sales tax for public safety and gang prevention passed by voters in 2004.

Millison had proposed a more gradual approach by returning to the baseline over two years.

Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm said that since Measure O was passed, the number of sworn officers actually has decreased 8 percent.

That’s because the salaries and benefits for police and firefighters over that period have risen 14 percent, meaning taxpayers are paying more for fewer officers.

Civilians have borne the brunt of police department cutbacks, and “it’s starting to catch up with us now,” Schwedhelm said.

He requested a new administrative analyst position to focus on technology issues, including federally required upgrades to communications equipment.

Sawyer said he disagreed with some “unfortunate characterizations in the media” that the majority of the council was “sacrificing the other departments to prop up the police department.”

“This is hardly what some have referred to as supporting a police state,” Sawyer said.

While their overall portion of the general fund will remain 60 percent, the police and fire departments were asked to do less, as a percentage of their budgets, than other departments to come up with the $2.5 million in cuts to close the budget gap.

Cuts to the fire department of $645,000 were 1.6 percent of its budget, and police cuts of $104,000 represent less than half a percent of its budget, according to finance officials. Cuts to other departments to bridge the budget gap ranged from 2.6 percent to 7.6 percent of their budgets.

The total number of positions citywide is expected to drop by 28.3 to 1,199 full-time equivalent positions. About 10 layoffs are expected citywide; the remaining positions are vacant.

Gorin likened the challenge of cutting the city budget to a parent having to choose between children.

“You are part of the family,” Gorin said of the police and fire departments. “We need to make cuts and we need to share in the solutions going forward. “

Wysocky said the failure to gain concessions from employees and boosting staffing in departments where the pension burden is rising fastest was not a good long-term strategy and “doesn’t solve our structural deficit.”

The parking fee at Howarth Park continued to generate stark differences of opinion on the council. Wysocky reiterated his belief that the council would all but be breaking a promise made to voters that it would not implement the $5 daily parking fee if voters passed the Measure P quarter of a percent sales tax in the fall.

Gorin said she didn’t like the fee because “charging for parking, I think, will just tick people off.”

Sawyer pointed out that those in the minority support increased parking fees downtown as a way to encourage people to get out of their cars, but are against doing so in the city’s busiest park.

“Why it’s so different, I don’t understand,” Sawyer said.

12 Responses to “Split Santa Rosa Council approves budget”

  1. The Truth says:

    As far as i know it is. Although it isn’t a done deals as my friend just told me the council needs to officially vote as do the FF’s, guess when he was talking about it the other day, it really wasn’t public info yet. My bad for that one. Hope it all goes through though, a step in the right direction.

  2. Lets be Reasonable says:

    Is it really The Truth…!? That would go a long way.

  3. The Truth says:

    @ lets be, I want to say that’s exactly what was offered to the city. The FF’s are going to put the raise into cost sharing to pick up a large portion of the city’s retirement costs saving them more than 1 million annual on going. If that is the case and the council and the FF’s agree to do it, I would hope the city would use the savings to save jobs. Time will tell I guess?

  4. Joe says:

    DOES THIS SURPRISE ANYONE????????!!!!!!!! The ELITE get what they want, again and again, while the other city workers get left holding the empty bag and the ELITE run to the bank with their bags over flowing with cash and their golden benefits package. The ELITE of this city bought and paid for the last council and they already had one of their own planted in there and he is now the one calling the shots! When will this end? Do your part P/S, now is the time to step up, you are all city workers, or that’s what we all thought!

  5. Lets be Reasonable says:

    Real heros would offer to trade for the laid-off folks jobs in the other departments. Here is what they would trade – their 6% raise in exchange for paying an equal amount towards their own retirement. It is a win-win all around. The Heros would be doing their part. Plus, they will get an even larger retirement from the raise. The City saves the money and gets some political cover, because the Heros are paying some of the cost of their spiralling retirement costs. And the City does not have to fire 10 hard working people. That is what real heros would do.

  6. Heroes? I don’t think so. More like fattened calfs sucking at the public teat well after the milks gone dry.

    This will not be the last word on this issue. There will come a time when public safety, hat in hand, makes their rounds, knocking on our doors, begging for another handout or concession.

  7. Beazy Dillon says:

    Well we have no one to blame but ourselves for voting in a special interest representative.

    We knew Olivares was a cop and a very visible advocate for all police and fire services. What did we expect? So here we are, faced with the City budget and all is going EXACTLY as I, and a lot of us judging by these comments, thought it would.

    Believe me, I have as much respect for people in uniform as the next but I have as much, if not more, respect for the daily workers who go into their offices or warehouses or fields everyday and do the real everyday work that keeps this city running and keeps people like Mayor O. sitting pretty and effective in their position.

    I’m just saying, voters, this is what we have to think about next election time.


  8. John T says:

    Police and Fire are going to get knocked off their gold plated perch one day, but it won’t happen until the voters wise up and quit approving these sales tax increases.

    By the way folks, I hope you realize you’re taking money away from the kids in schools when you pass those tax hikes. Schools have to pay those higher taxes on supplies for the schools. It isn’t a lot, but it all adds up.

    I’m sure you all enjoy paying the cops 20 minutes of overtime every day so they can get dressed, while at the same time others lose their jobs, or get their pay cut.

  9. Lets be Reasonable says:

    It’s a sad day. 10 layoffs. How many more bumped to lower paying positions? 20? So around 30 employees will likely be either laid-off or have their life otherwise overturned, and all NON-PS workers will take a week or two off without pay, just so Fire could get their 6% raise. How can I still tell my boy that Firemen are heros…?

  10. r says:

    I agree with the previous posts. All of them are scum bags in my opinion. You either get the progressive special interest politician or the bought and paid for person who is honoring their financing and betraying their constituents. Disgusting. Right now it’s 4 to 3 for the latter. Look at the city council web site and look at the financial statements. It’s unreal how much money the POA and their management assn. have contributed to elect their own. It’s all right there. ten grand for this 10 grand for that. ( I have to admit I was sick of seeing and listening to Jacobi though.) Honestly, WTF are the City unions doing contributing anyway? Any of them? But it’ll become apparent to anyone looking at the statements that the public safety folks knew who they wanted. Oh well… That’s politics in America, I guess.. Be careful Santa Rosa… Let your public safety dominate you as they seem to be…. hmmmm. Next election…. Watch out…… the rest of the city unions are poor compared to PS if you look at their ability to make political contributions.

  11. L. Logan says:

    I find it amusing that the City Council feels such discomfort in charging for parking at the local park and don’t blink an eye at funding a bomb squad that never has actual bombs to work on. Bone heads.

  12. Jonathan Dan says:

    “Olivares, Jake Ours, John Sawyer and Scott Bartley supported it, while Gorin, Gary Wysocky and Marsha Vas Dupre were opposed.”

    Of course! What else is new?