For many, the very idea of reviewing a government budget induces a voluntary coma response, but it is critical that access to this information is readily available for public view. Government budgets are complex, confusing, and not at all like our household budgets. At home, we can transfer money from one account to another to compensate for a shortfall. Government department budgets are restricted thus transferring from one to another is not a possibility. Helping to demystify public funds is a goal of the county and your supervisor. Transparency and accountability are critical elements of earning and retaining the trust of the public. We are, after all, partners in the success of the community.
Each year in June, the Board of Supervisors works with the County Administrator and Department heads to establish a budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2016. This year begins the second fiscal year (2016-2017) of the County’s first two-year budget plan. The FY 2016-2017 budget plan supports our County’s vision to invest in beautiful, thriving, and sustainable communities for all and advances programs and initiatives tied to the County’s Strategic Plan goals: Safe, Healthy & Sustainable Community; Economic & Environmental Stewardship; Invest in the Future; and Civic Services & Engagement.
We are still in a post-recession recovery, with the aches and pains of significant resource reductions fresh in our minds. Through tough and sometimes unpopular decisions, we were able keep our County on track during the six-year recession.
Today, with the economy continuing to recover, we proceed cautiously — investing in key Board priority areas such as workforce housing, effective and efficient countywide fire service, and the annexation of southwest Santa Rosa. We are only too aware that the next fiscal cliff could be right around the corner, thus all budget recommendations have been evaluated with this risk clearly in mind.
We are the largest employer in the County and our employees are members of our community and contributors to our economy. They are our neighbors, friends, and family. County employees do the heavy lifting, from patching our potholes to maintaining and caring for our beautiful parks, making sure our citizens are safe, to providing social services and much more.
Our workforce sacrificed significantly during the recessionary years through unpaid furloughs and pay cuts, at the same time shouldering the increased expense of healthcare. This year’s budget respects our employees by addressing the high cost of health care and bringing compensation up to 95 percent of market. Balancing the needs of our employees with preparing for the next rainy day is important. A highly qualified workforce is an excellent return on investment, thus we need to stay competitive with neighboring jurisdictions.
As part of the economic recovery, we expect growth in property tax and sales tax revenue as well as increases in state and federal allocations. With increased revenues, cost savings measures, and a focus on long-term operational sustainability, we are able to present a balanced budget.
The second year FY 2016-2017 total budget is $1.6 billion, representing a $23 million, or 1.4 percent, increase from the FY 2015-2016 Revised Budget. The total budget is financed with $1.46 billion in revenues and $177.6 million in use of fund balances.
General Fund includes expenditures and revenues associated with the delivery of services by County agencies funded mainly with property taxes, sales taxes, fees, charges for services, or available unrestricted fund balance. The FY 2016-2017 General Fund budget totals $443.4 million, an increase of $12.2 million, or 2.8 percent, as a result of recently updated labor agreements, partially offset by the non-recurrence in FY 2016-2017 of the prior year’s $10.7 million one-time special contribution to the Transportation & Public Works (TPW) program for Pavement Preservation.
On that note, let’s talk about Roads. Budgets are sometimes hard to follow. Regarding that $10.7 million for Pavement Preservation, the money has been transferred to TPW, and will be added to the Board’s 2016-2017 annual contribution, which will result in over $25 million of available General Fund for Road Pavement Preservation in the new fiscal year. It is estimated that almost 100 miles of arterial, major and minor collector roads, and local roads through the County, including five miles of the worst local roads will be addressed in 2017. The Board is scheduled to hear the details of the Pavement Plan on June 14.
The FY 2016-2017 Revised Recommended Budget is now available for public review. At the beginning of the public hearings on Monday, June 13 at 8:30 a.m., the Board will decide which departmental budgets could be included in the Consent agenda and which should be more fully discussed. This streamlines the budget hearing process. Although two weeks have been set aside for the budget hearings, we expect the hearings should realistically conclude by Thursday, June 16. For the first time in years, the Board will hold a late afternoon hearing and discussion on the budget for Permit and Resource Management Department on Wednesday, June 15 at 3:30p.m.
This year, the County will activate an online view of the County’s annual operating budget as part of our commitment to transparency, open government, and citizen engagement. This online application presents the County’s operating budget in a visual style to help promote an understanding of how the budget is structured and where the County is dedicating available resources. The application is live now to provide residents a review option as part of the 10-day public hearing notice. The information will include FY 2016-17 recommended appropriations to be discussed by the Board in public session starting on Monday, June 13.
I encourage you to explore the County’s budget at: http://budget.sonomacounty.ca.gov/#!/year/default.
It isn’t exactly “Game of Thrones” viewing, but it does impact your daily life. I look forward to hearing from you.