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What’s the best way to spend emergency money?

Posted on November 8, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Sonoma Valley residents are now experiencing a range of post-fire emotions, one of which is gratitude towards the first responders, and all their support teams, for saving the area from even more widespread destruction. These feelings of gratitude for the fire and safety personnel are fully understandable. Their jobs are hard and even life threatening, and not the type of jobs most of us can do or are even capable of performing.

The city of Sonoma is planning an event to honor the first responders, and provide an occasion for the community as a whole to come together, to reflect upon, and come to grips with this terrible tragedy that affected so many.

At a recent special meeting, Sonoma’s City Council recently grappled with the possibility of extraordinary costs associated with the recent fires in the Valley, but nonetheless decided to spend more money. Specifically, the council approved the City Manager’s request of, as part of a 200,000 transfer of Emergency and General Fund Reserves, $59,000 for a “recognition and appreciation event” to thank first responders.

It’s a commendable idea. But if the city is so short of available cash that it must tap its reserves, frankly, that concerns us. Is this the best use of city money?

We suggest Emergency Reserve funds are best used to directly help some of the many people and families who are in dire need as a result of the fires. The money, for example, could be spread across 100 needy families who could each use $1,000 towards housing, clothing, or food right now. They, not the city, are the ones facing an emergency.

The financial uncertainties facing the city’s budget are considerable, and we think caution in spending is appropriate at this time. Sales tax revenue will be lower, as will TOT. Expenses will be higher, for overtime and some shared emergency response costs, and there is the potential refund of millions to water rate payers. In the absence of a current financial statement, the precise financial fiscal condition of the city is unclear. Now is not the time to spend money because it feels good. On the contrary, we believe now is the time to be especially careful.

Giving the community a chance to heal and celebrate will no doubt help many overcome our recent trauma. An appreciation event is appropriate, and the current plan will is to have this event share the stage with the upcoming Lighting of the Plaza ceremony. That’s smart. Expenses should be far less than the budget originally proposed. Expressing appreciation does not have to be an elaborate undertaking. The homemade signs all over the Valley express appreciation far better than the $6,000 worth of banners the City might had proposed purchasing.

People are suffering right now, and an appreciation event will no doubt provide solace to many. Of more importance is what should we be doing besides celebrating? Spending money for a feel-good event is completely understandable, but ultimately, what actions will best help those who have lost so much?

 – The Sun Editorial Board



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