After several days of deliberations, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in June 14th to adopt a $1.78 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2020. Each year I write about the budget to help our community understand the balancing act that takes place to ensure delivery of essential public services, and how our County navigates the economic ups and downs that occur, whether an economic boom or bust, a shift in funding mechanisms, a natural disaster, or whatever the impediment that always seems to be before us.
This year the Board was faced with the task of prioritizing and aligning requests with revenues to adopt a structurally balanced budget in the face of recent natural disasters. We continue to be impacted with costs associated with recovery from the 2017 Complex Fires, and this last winter we added impacts from the raging Russian River that flooded so many homes, businesses and roadways in West County. These were in addition to increasing costs combined with declining revenues.
Discretionary Budget – The $1.78 billion budget is primarily comprised of State and Federal funding that must be allocated to specific programs that help provide services to the residents of Sonoma County through different departments. Of the total budget, only $321 million or 18% was available to use at the Board’s discretion to support the 25 operational County departments and other needs. This year’s budget presented a $14 million gap between available ongoing revenues and departmental requests for ongoing funding.
Pension Liability – Supervisors found a balance between funding essential services and making strategic investments, which included the approval of the single largest prepayment on pension liability in the history of the County of Sonoma. The $6.8 million prepayment towards pension obligations will help avoid interest costs of $9.5 million over 20 years. The County completed an additional $3.5 million pension prepayment in 2015.
Roads – Other strategic investments include the creation of a $5 million sinking fund to address unfunded infrastructure needs. I proposed the new sinking fund to allow the County to leverage additional State and Federal funding to support increased investments in our aging infrastructure and start to plan for the repaving of our roads damaged by heavy debris cleanup trucks after the 2017 firestorms and those roads damaged by the 2019 floods.
In addition, the Board set aside $2.5 million to create an Economic Uncertainty fund to help weather a future economic downturn that economists are predicting will likely happen at the end of 2020. We also committed to replenish County reserves by an additional $2.5 million.
Recovery & Resilience
Through the adopted budget, we approved the investment of over $41.2 million toward recovery and resiliency efforts that will, among other things:
Other investments include:
One important reason for declining revenue is associated with the reassessment and resulting loss of property tax revenue for homes and businesses destroyed in the 2017 fires. The County continues to pursue State funds to backfill property tax revenue losses after experiencing damages of over $200 million from the disasters experienced over the last two years.
Not enough people in the community review our County budget; I hope I was able give you a concise overview of our 2019-2020 budget.