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PD Editorial: Yes on A: Rohnert Park still needs budget help

  • (The Press Democrat)

Rohnert Park has reduced city spending by almost 15 percent since 2006. The City Council budgeted $24.5 million for the current fiscal year. That's the smallest sum since 2003-04.

Even so, city officials expect a $1.4 million deficit for 2013-14, with projections showing ongoing deficits for years to come, potentially threatening the city's solvency.

“Looking at these numbers,” Councilman Amy Ahanotu said during a budget hearing in June, “I hope we can come up with something that can help us avoid bankruptcy.”

That something is a sales tax.

In 2010, Rohnert Park voters approved a half-cent sales tax to maintain city services during the worst economic downtown since the Great Depression. The tax generates about $3.2 million a year, but it's scheduled to expire in 2015. The council placed Measure A on the Nov. 5 ballot to rescind the expiration date.

After a decade of deficit spending, City Manager Gabe Gonzalez said, revenue from the half-cent sales tax is the cornerstone of “a 10-year plan for us to be financially solid.”

We opposed Rohnert Park's sales tax measure in 2010, calling on the city to enact spending cuts and pension reforms before asking for a tax hike.

Voters entrusted the city with a local revenue source that can't be diverted, and Gonzalez and the council delivered with budget and pension reforms.

The city realized savings of $3.3 million through its new labor contracts, which brought salaries back in line with other Sonoma County communities.

Employee concessions included lower tiers for both salaries and retirement benefits for new hires. All employees now pay their full share of pension contributions — 9 percent of salary for public safety employees, 8 percent for other employees.

Other savings include a new 12-hour schedule for police officers to reduce overtime expenses.

Credit is due for city employees who recognized the need for savings, the council for making difficult choices such as closing neighborhood swimming pools and Gonzalez for taking a long-term approach to the city's financial health.

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