By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Santa Rosa City Council, enjoying slightly improved revenues from a modest economic recovery, this week will consider a budget representing the largest boost in city spending since the recession-era slashing began.
City Manager Kathy Millison’s proposed $340 million budget would be a 9 percent increase over the current year and would include hiring the equivalent of 22 new full-time positions, including police officers, fire fighters, wastewater workers and financial analysts.
In her letter to the council, Millison said the $29 million in additional spending is needed to invest in infrastructure and fill “critical needs” the city faces as a result of years of cuts. She also stressed that while budget had stabilized, rising costs made it necessary for the city to find ways to provide “service levels that are more acceptable to the community’s needs and expectations.”
When the nearly $50 million in capital improvement projects are removed — many of them funded by water and sewer ratepayers — Millison said the operating expenditures increase would be 4 percent over current year.
“It’s good to be in an era of stability in terms of our budget,” Mayor Scott Bartley said. “We’re not on fire, but we’re modestly up.”
Bartley said the new positions have been “pretty carefully considered.”
“We’re adding them back in where we cut too far before,” Bartley said.
The police and fire departments, which benefit from a dedicated ¼-percent sales tax known as Measure O, are set to receive the majority of the new staffing, though not all of it will increase their budgets.
The Police Department budget woukld increase 2.4 percent next year, to $45.5 million. The department is proposing to spend an additional $700,000 for 6.5 new fulltime positions, including sworn officers and civilians, to bring it closer to the baseline established by Measure O.
That increase was hotly debated in a previous budget session and likely will be so again this week.
The Fire Department budget is decreasing by 3 percent to $33.3 million, but only because a two-year $2.5 million federal grant to fund nine firefighters was accounted for in the current fiscal year. The new budget adds six new firefighters, but their costs are to be covered by a resulting reduction in overtime. Other factors include an increase in health insurance costs due to the expiration of employee contributions and $300,000 toward the construction of the future Fountaingrove fire station.
One of the main drivers of the cost increases is that city employees, who in prior years agreed to concessions such as unpaid furloughs and higher pension contributions, have not agreed to continue such reductions, increasing the city’s salary and benefit costs next year by $1.6 million.
The Parks and Recreation Department budget is going up 3.4 percent to $19.8 million. The increases includes $212,000 to manage new facilities such as the Pearson Senior Wing of the Finley Community Center and $200,000 to more accurately reflect the parks irrigation budget.
That budget likely will get continued scrutiny. Councilman Gary Wysocky noted that he and his colleagues have yet to receive a report on the operations of the Bennett Valley Golf Course, which is on track to lose $262,000 next year.
“How can we provide guidance if we don’t know if that’s a viable operation?” Wysocky said.
The budget does not include an increase in park maintenance staff, which some council members have said they would like to see.
The budget calls for a 2 percent increase in Transportation and Public Works Department spending, to $48 million. That reflects a 5 percent reduction in bus routes, completion of the revamped transit mall, reorganization of the engineering teams and $3 million more toward street improvement projects.
The Utilities Department budget would climb 17 percent to $143.5 million, due largely to the increasing cost of water, large capital improvement needs and the addition of seven new positions, including a lab analyst, maintenance worker and communications coordinator.
Though on a smaller scale, many administrative departments are seeing increases, as well.The Community Development Department is planning for a 12 percent budget increase, to $4.3 million. Increases include a new employee in the code enforcement department and reclassification of a city planner.
The City Manager’s budget is increasing by 67 percent, to $2.8 million, largely due to the movement of the gang prevention and intervention services staff into the department and out of parks and recreation.
The Information Technology Department is increasing 18 percent to $5.9 million, mostly from the addition of three new employees and a new computer replacement program.
The Housing Authority budget is tacking on 5 percent because of an increase in the number of people who qualify for housing-voucher programs.
The Finance Department is also ringing up a 5 percent increase to $9 million, due in part to the additional of a financial analyst and reclassification of three other employees.
Not all departments will see increases, however.
The budget for the city’s former Redevelopment Agency continues to shrink, losing 21 percent to $4.7 million as the state continues to restrict the former agency to repaying debt.
The City Council budget is decreasing by 31 percent to $694,000, largely because 2013-14 is a non-election year.
Budgets for the City Attorney and Economic Development and Housing and are basically unchanged at $2.1 million and $7.7 million respectively.
The hearing starts after the regular 4 p.m. council meeting Tuesday and is set to continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday if necessary.