By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park has appointed a City Hall insider as economic development manager, a move designed to revive its flagging finances.
Housing and Redevelopment Manager Linda Babonis, one of 35 applicants for the position, will head a three-person economic development team, City Manager Gabe Gonzalez said Wednesday.
Babonis said her first steps will be “developing programs aimed at things like business retention, business growth and attracting business.”
The chief aim of creating Babonis’ position is to boost city revenues, such as sales and hotel bed taxes, Gonzalez said.
“The federal government is not going to bail us out; the state’s certainly not going to help us, so we have to be proactive,” he said. “It’s vital to our long-term solvency and financial sustainability.”
Babonis was paid $7,592 a month as a non-management employee. Her new management-level salary will be $9,007 a month.
Her work will incorporate a 20-point economic development plan the City Council adopted in 2010. It calls for, among other things, coordinating with local business leaders and the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau, starting a “micro-loan” program to support small businesses, speeding up the business application process, and refashioning the city as a “youth, sports, recreation and cultural center.”
Babonis’ team will include Marilyn Ponton, the planning and building manager, and Rebecca Zito, a city public works management analyst.
“We’re putting together the vision and then we will develop the tool box to implement the programs,” Babonis said.
Also, Mayor Gina Belforte said Wednesday that she will urge the county’s mayors and councilmembers to create a coordinated, countywide approach to economic development through public works.
“A lot of us have money that’s restricted to public works projects and we have a lot of money set aside for that,” she said.
“It’s perfect for her to be able to dovetail that and say, ‘What can I do to drive that,’” she said.