Jake Mackenzie, the longest-serving member of Rohnert Park’s City Council, was elected mayor on Tuesday night by councilmembers. His first priority? The budget. He says the city needs to look at increasing revenues after years of cutting spending.
In a move designed to revive its flagging finances, Rohnert Park has appointed a City Hall insider as economic development manager: Linda Babonis, the city’s Housing and Redevelopment manager. Her first steps? “Developing programs aimed at things like business retention, business growth and attracting business,” Babonis said.
Rohnert Park public works employees showed up en masse at Tuesday’s City Council meeting in a last-minute attempt to win public support as five months of contract negotiations come to a contentious close. Union leaders say they’re being asked to shoulder an unfair burden in the city’s attempt to close its budget deficit while administrators escape the same level of pain.
UPDATE 7:30 PM: Rohnert Park will not contract out for police and fire services after reaching a labor deal laden with concessions from public safety workers. The agreement puts to rest a controversial proposal floated in February by the city manager to contract for police services with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and fire safety services from the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District.
Rohnert Park public safety officers have ramped up their offensive against City Hall’s exploration of outsourcing law enforcement and fire services. The public safety officers union sent a campaign-style mailer to residents revealing details from contract negotiatings, saying the city rejected $1.6 million in contract concessions, including cuts in pay and pension benefits.
The Rohnert Park City Council decided Tuesday to give housing-related nonprofit agencies more money — $285,000 — than it did last year, citing hardships people are facing in a struggling economy. “The character of a city is how we take care of those in need and we are in the worst time of need in my lifetime,” said Mayor Gina Belforte.
Crosswalk signs, fresh striping and other traffic safety improvements will begin to appear at several Rohnert Park crosswalks in the wake of the death last year of a toddler hit by a car. The City Council on Tuesday night approved an early phase of a citywide traffic improvement project that eventually will cost $510,000.
In what has become a grim annual ritual, Rohnert Park City Hall is scrambling to shrink a budget deficit. But this year, the City Council is taking a different tack by assuming a long view of its budgetary problems. The council voted to create a “lock box” trust fund to start saving to meet its unfunded retiree medical liability. “I think this will start a new precedent in terms of how we look at our budget,” Mayor Gina Belforte said.
Rohnert Park could save more than $2 million a year by contracting police services to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, according to a draft proposal from the sheriff’s office. But the city’s public safety officers say the plan would deliver less service and be less cost-effective overall.