The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $1.9 billion budget for 2020-21 it says avoids layoffs while making investments in critical areas such as fire recovery, permanent supportive housing, COVID-19 response, and mental health and homeless services.
The Board was faced with a projected $45.7 million revenue shortfall because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn. As a result, the recommended budget suggested the reduction of more than 100 positions, including 55 layoffs of current employees. But the Board avoided layoffs by backfilling most of the cuts with discretionary, one-time funds.
One such source was $24.6 million in PG&E settlement money received in recognition of the out-of-pocket costs incurred by the County for the 2017 wildfires. (October 6, the Board will decide how to allocate the balance of the $149 million settlement.)
The County also benefited from federal and state stimulus funds as well as revenue projections that had improved since June 10 when the Board approved a “baseline” budget. Waiting until September to adopt a final budget allowed the Board time to assess the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m grateful that we managed to avoid the layoffs that were a source of so much angst and stress by many of our hardworking employees,” said Board Chair Susan Gorin. “I’m also pleased that this budget addresses some of the crises that we have seen over the past several years and helps us move forward in new and meaningful ways.”
The County’s $1.9 billion budget funds 25 different departments. While avoiding layoffs, the Board approved over $10 million in reductions that call for the elimination of 34 positions, which are currently vacant.
The Board also agreed to allocate:
$20 million in set-aside funding for COVID-19 response including expanded testing
$8.5 million in PG&E funds to backfill the County’s reserve funds, which were depleted during the 2017 fires
$5.5 million to expand the County’s Mobile Support Team (for a period of three years), to respond to mental health crisis calls
$2.24 million set aside in an economic uncertainty fund
$2 million to assist with the purchase of two hotels – the Hotel Azura in Santa Rosa and the Sebastopol Inn in Sebastopol – to be used for permanent supportive housing through the governor’s Project Homekey program
$1.4 million over the next two to three years to expand support for the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Oversight including the addition of two attorneys
$920,000 for vegetation management services and a potential future fire revenue measure
$384,000 for food distribution and senior services
$355,000 to strengthen overall support for homeless services and Home Sonoma County Leadership Council, the primary decision-making body for the Sonoma County homeless system of care
Next year’s budget will be even harder to balance, according to a report to the Board by Robert Eyler, an economics professor at Sonoma State University, who predicted that the county won’t begin to experience an economic recovery until 2023. The County also is projecting flat revenue growth in the months to come, resulting in annual budget deficits of up to $25 million through 2025.
“This was a particularly challenging budget to formulate this year because of all of the unknowns and the moving pieces surrounding the current health crisis and economic realities we face,” said County Administrator Sheryl Bratton. “I’m proud of where we ended up and all of the hard work of our staff.”
October 6, the Board will decide how to allocate the balance of the $149 million settlement money. Community members are encouraged to provide input about how the funds should be spent by emailing suggestions to [email protected] or take the online survey athttps://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PGE_English before Sept. 14, 2020.
For more detailed information about the Sonoma County 2020-21 budget, go tohttps://sonomacounty.ca.gov/CAO/Public-Reports/Budget-Reports/