Rohnert Park will finish the second half of the fiscal year in far better fiscal condition than it started, the city’s mid-year budget shows.
A projected $2 million deficit has been cut to $333,000 since July, a change due almost entirely to new sales tax revenue and employee wage and benefit concessions.
“We are in pretty good shape and definitely are moving in the right direction,” Vice Mayor Pam Stafford said Tuesday morning. The council was expected to approve the amended $26 million budget.
The improvement in the fiscal picture is even more dramatic when viewed in the longer term. Four years ago, the city faced a $9 million general fund deficit, and as recently as two years ago officials were mentioning bankruptcy as a possible recourse.
That prospect played a central theme in the campaign for a five-year, half-cent city sales tax. Voters approved Measure E in 2010. It took full effect this year and is projected to bring in $2.4 million.
“Had it not passed, in spite of getting costs savings from employees, our situation would continue to be dire,” said City Manager Gabe Gonzalez.
Employee concessions extracted in last year’s sometimes bitter contract negotiations are also evident in the latest budget.
Salary and benefit costs dipped from $22.3 million to $20.6 million, a $1.7 million savings. The public safety department accounted for $1 million of that.
Councilwoman Gina Belforte said that while the council can breathe easier, in other ways its job is “more intense than ever.”
She said, “We couldn’t have done it without the residents and staff, so we owe them even tighter controls to show them that their sales tax and their concessions are being put to good use.”
Both she and Stafford said further layoffs or concessions are unlikely if present conditions hold.
“If you prune a tree too much, it dies, and that’s not what we want to do to for the city,” Belforte said.
Stafford said the emphasis would likely be on tightening operations and managing cash flow better, things that Gonzalez has repeatedly emphasized.
“I don’t see us losing any more employees or anything like that, just becoming more efficient,” she said.
Mayor Jake Mackenzie said that the effects are already being felt, especially when projecting revenue.
“I think we’re operating on a much more realistic basis,” he said.
Now, Belforte said, beating one of her favorite drums, the city must continue to court new businesses.
“That Target Center down in Petaluma is going to take tax dollars out of Rohnert Park,” she said.
“Looking down the road, my concern is, how do we offset that? How do we make sure the tax revenue in our city continues to increase as Measure E sunsets” in 2015?
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.