WatchSonoma Watch

4th year of budget gloom for Sonoma County


Sonoma County government faces its fourth consecutive year of budget reductions, with a projected $10.4 million general fund deficit in the coming 2012-2013 fiscal year, county officials said Tuesday.

The gap is equal to about 3 percent of the projected general fund budget, which makes up about a third of the county’s overall budget of $1.2 billion.

The shortfall is smaller than the prior funding gaps, which since 2009 have ranged from $21 million to $42 million. Those deficits resulted in the elimination of nearly 600 county positions, most of them vacant, and employee concessions that included unpaid furloughs.

But increasing county costs, including rising salary and benefit expenses, have continued to outpace flat or declining revenues, county officials told the Board of Supervisors in their mid-year budget update.

Property tax revenue, the main source for general fund spending, is now in the third year of a historic decline and is projected to be flat next year, officials said. Meanwhile, salary and benefit costs, including pension costs, are projected to rise by $15.4 million for general fund employees, or 6.2 percent more than the current year, to $263 million, officials reported.

General fund expenses are projected to total $389.5 million for the coming fiscal year, with revenue at $368 million. A carryover balance of $11 million offsets roughly half of the difference. The remainder is the projected $10.4 million shortfall.

The gap means county departments relying on general fund revenues could see no additional money this year, an effective cut of 5 to 8 percent, said County Administrator Veronica Ferguson.

Supervisors suggested that salary and benefit cuts, many of them dependent on contract talks with employees this year, would be a chief tool in addressing the shortfall.

“Quite possibly our toughest year could be ahead of us,” said Supervisor Mike McGuire. “We are not going to get out of this mess without permanent change in our budgeting. And that’s going to mean permanent reductions in our pay and/or our pensions.”

The board is set to return the issue in April during its third-quarter budget review.

Preliminary contract talks with employee groups are set to begin in March.

18 Responses to “4th year of budget gloom for Sonoma County”

  1. The Oracle says:

    Of course it’s entirely the county employees’ fault. They’re the ones who for over a generation have told local, state, and federal officials to base their budgets and labor agreements on the assumption that our economy will keep growing and growing at a feverish pace; and they’re the ones who for generations have told our officials to allow questionable business practices so our economy would keep growing at a feverish pace. So, now that this feverish shell game has had its Great Recession and the shell game’s assumptions can’t be sustained let’s blame the workers. It’s obviously their fault.

  2. Union Guy says:

    The unions have been trying to tier out the pension and go to cheaper medical plans for years. There have been many suggestions to cut waste and expenses over the years. Maybe now the BOS can be part of the solution too. The unions have been trying. Ok, not all the city unions, obviously..

  3. bear says:

    News for the uniformed: Sonoma County runs its own pension system and has nothing to do with CALPERS, except to recognize years of service.

    Oh, and unless you have 10 consecutive years of service, you get zero in retirement health benefits, which are more expensive than my mortgage already, and going nowhere but up. Guess I need to start going to the emergency room, where others can pay for me.

    Just like you guys have played the system in terms of income tax and property tax breaks.

    Are you folks wealthy or what? Seems like you want welfare for you and nobody else.

    You really are uninformed and don’t realize the extent to which you’re being screwed by the truly wealthy.

  4. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Money Grubber-for once I agree with you. I believe that the new courthouse will be built with state money. However, most of the court employees agree with you. With rank and file staff cut to the bare bones, whose going to man our big new courthouse? Even many of the lawyers say it’s a waste. They’d like staff to help them.

    It is, indeed, a waste of money.

  5. Money Grubber says:

    The County of Sonoma does NOT need a brand new court house, either.

    They have proven themselves to be untrustworthy in everything they do with our money.

    The current court house in Santa Rosa operates just fine. The public employees just want to have new cars and new court houses to enjoy before they lay claim to their criminally excessive public pensions.

  6. Money Grubber says:

    Oakland is currently, right now, CUTTING $ 28 million dollars from its budget.

    Time for the criminal bureaucrats in Sonoma County to get the message that they engaged in financial fraud against the public by intentionally spending more than they knew they had.

    They KNEW what they were doing.

    Now to cover for themselves, they again try to manipulate the public.

  7. Social Dis-Ease says:

    The plan is working…
    what about THE QUESTION?

  8. Canthisbe says:

    Here’s a concept: no democratic presidential candidate can be re-elected because they don’t remember anything that happened before 3 weeks ago. Blow millions on Solydra – this week – SOTU speech – let’s blow billions more on solar before the election.
    Please remember that this is a NATIONAL economic recession brought on by DEMOCRATIC deregulatory and tax policies with a big helping hand from the Republicans and just about everyone else.
    for one of the more balanced analyzes
    This is a DELIBERATE attempt by democrats to expand government and to entrench the government / political class and reduce the private sector down to a group dependent on government subsidies to be handed out by the democrats to those who fund their campaigns and robotically vote for them. Who is trying to pump huge amounts of money to his corporate bribers that we don’t have and will have to borrow from China before the election to buy himself another term so he can attempt to further socialize the USA into oblivion? Obama Who has gone around the world to apologize for the USA? Obama. Treason?
    If you can read, you’ll see that lots of news stories mention Romney’s 14% tax rate on income, not including the $20 million+ he offshored to the Caymans.
    And if you can read a little deeper, most of Romney’s income is investment income on money that he already paid taxes on once at the time he earned the income. Some of it from corporations was taxed a third time when the corporations paid taxes.
    All of the tax experts and even the socialist pundits agree that Romney has done nothing illegal or improper in regard to his taxes or investments, including his investments based in Cayman Islands.
    “Among [all past and present] presidential candidates and primary contenders, John Kerry likely beats out Mitt Romney with a net worth, as disclosed by his 2004 personal financial disclosure report, at $237-312 million; however, including his wife Theresa Heinz Kerry, their combined net worth is as much as $1 billion.
    and Kerry and his wife made their money by marrying it.
    The Democratic / socialists, and I’m guessing you , had noooooo problem with Kerry’s wealth because he talks the big government / socialist talk even though he parked his yacht out-of state to avoid Mass’s onerous taxes until he was caught and ridiculed.
    Oh please go back into hibernation.

  9. John Bly says:

    I guess my only surprise is that nothing has been done yet. Taxpayers should be OUTRAGED by the services being cut to finance public pensions. No-I’m not talking about the lower paid “worker bees” but the higher priced administrators that are loathe to move from defined benefits to defined contributions. How outrageous is it that CALPERS just keeps saying a 7.75% return is perfectly reasonable? They haven’t changed their projected return for over a decade. But they asked for a raise for their staff in 2011. Holy moly! We should be marching on all elected officials with pitchforks and torches forcing tem to wake up and cut their benefits to the highest compensated. Bravo to this group of Supes if they can reform these pensions.

  10. RAW says:

    $240K? Felonies? Offshore accounts?
    The lunatic fringe is alive and well.
    It was obviously Bush’s fault, right?
    Regardless of Sonoma County’s problems, many simply will not allow Obama to accept one bit of responsibility for a single thing in the last 3 years. I thought only the bumper stickers ere jokes.

  11. Skeptical says:

    Another budget shortfall and still the BOS lifts a hiring freeze and continues to hire . . . not even able to wait a few short months to bring people on after a new pension tier is created in the upcoming contract negotiations. And where is the reporting of a potential law enforcement pay increase scheduled for year three of their current contract, courtesy of the BOS, of course. And on and on it goes . . . talking about righting the ship and fiscal discipline yet falling short at every turn. It is as if the BOS barely has a clue what there fiscal priorities truly are.

  12. bear says:

    Here’s a concept: no republican presidential candidate can be elected because they don’t remember anything that happened before 3 years ago.

    Please remember that this is a NATIONAL economic recession brought on by REPUBLICAN deregulatory and tax policies.

    This is a DELIBERATE attempt by republicans to reduce revenue, scream about deficits and tank the economy before the elections. Treason?

    Nobody mentions Romney’s 14% tax rate on income, not including the $20 million+ he offshored to the Caymans.

    Oh please wake up.

  13. Money Grubber says:

    Time to prosecute every dirty bureaucrat who did this to us.

    Charge? Financial FRAUD against the taxpayer.

    Time to put them into prison. They knew what they were doing.

  14. Money Grubber says:

    “”Those deficits resulted in the elimination of nearly 600 county positions, most of them vacant, …”


    The dirty bureaucrats played the smoke and mirrors game against the voters and screamed how they were ….”cutting jobs”… when all they did was eliminate “vacant positions”….

    “Vacant positions” = GHOST POSITIONS.

  15. GAJ says:

    Mendocino County Board of Supervisors just cut their pay 10% to $61,000…the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors should cut their own pay and benefits SUBSTANTIALLY as their total compensation is currently $240,00/year which is absurd.

    They should consider completely eliminating the retirement plan for Supervisors, just like State Senators and State House Members did in 1999.

    Show some leadership Board members!

  16. Lets be Reasonable says:

    It will be interesting to see how the new ACTTC David Sundstrom will handle this. There needs to be some serious cleaning house after so many years of Rod Dole…

  17. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    It’s time for the county to quit creating new management positions and hiring for vacant management positions that are supposed to remain vacant with the approval of the BOS. The management to rank and file ratio needs to be looked at. It’s appallingly small.
    They’ll be talking to employee groups and those groups will be expecting that management, who hasn’t really been impacted that much from previous layoffs, will be giving up more. The managers are NOT UNION. I believe it is expected from the unions that management give up its county paid deferred comp which the rank and file staff don’t get. County employees haven’t been given a raise in years but in previous years the management got the same percentage of raises as the rank and file. The spread between what frontline employees and what management makes it quite wide.
    It’s time for some fairness for frontline staff who have given up more than management in past years, many of whom lost their jobs.

  18. Reality Check says:

    Could Mike McGuire actually mean it? ” . . . that’s going to mean permanent reductions in our pay and/or pensions.”

    This board, to put in mildly, has been slow to appreciate the substantial and permanent changes necessary to align county spending with taxpayers’ wallets.