Santa Rosa, CA – June 14, 2019 – The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to adopt a $1.78 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2020.
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, and increasing costs combined with declining revenues.
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. $321 million, which is 18% of the total budget, 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.
“It is our responsibility to work to create a resilient financial future for our residents, and this required us to evaluate competing priorities and make strategic decisions today for a better tomorrow,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman, David Rabbitt. “It is difficult to make decisions when the needs are greater than the resources, but we prioritized our communities’ needs and adopted a budget focused on recovery and resiliency, public safety, and health services, while saving for the next rainy day.”
Supervisors had to find 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.
Other strategic investments include the creation of a $5 million sinking fund to address unfunded infrastructure needs. The new sinking fund allows the County to leverage additional state and federal funding to support increased investments in our aging infrastructure. 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. The Board also committed to replenish County reserves by an additional $2.5 million.
“We started working on the budget in April, creating opportunities for the Board and Department Heads to have conversations about their departmental needs and funding challenges through our budget workshops,” said County Administrator Sheryl Bratton.
Through the adopted budget, Supervisors approved the investment of over $41.2 million toward Recovery and Resiliency efforts that will, among other things:
- Enhance the newly formed Department of Emergency Management with over $3 million to invest in the creation of a comprehensive community and alert warning system;
- Support fire service agencies with over $8 million, including an investment on a countywide fuels reduction campaign, and additional funding for REDCOM to enhance emergency, fire and medical dispatch to unincorporated areas of the county;
- Support affordable housing developments, grant distribution, and the Resiliency Permit Center with over $15 million;
- Help implement a community preparedness plan for $500,000 over the next two years to educate and empower Sonoma County residents to prepare for, respond to and mitigate emergencies; and
- Carve out $4.9 million for local match requirements to bring in over $33 million in federal funds for up to 22 Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) applications. The HMGP supports any sustainable actions taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from future disasters.
The Board also supported departmental requests, such as those from the Department of Health Services by:
- Allocating over $2.5 million in one-time funding to continue providing Peer Counseling and Family Services for the next 2 years;
- Securing over $3.8 million to maintain Adult Services, including residential care facilities and outpatient case management programs, which both support some of the most vulnerable populations in our community; and
- Allocating over $800,000 through the Health Realignment Fund to maintain 6 positions essential to addressing disease control and emergency preparedness activities.
Other investments include:
- Dedicating funding towards public safety, granting the Sheriff’s Office the return of 9 positions. The approval included the continuation of services at the Sonoma Valley and Russian River substations.
- Enhancing public safety in partnership with the Sheriff through the funding of contract security for the downtown Guerneville Area.
- Granting United Way of the Wine Country $125,000 in additional funding to develop a transition plan to enhance the 2-1-1 system with better coordination and consolidation of public information during disasters.
- Granting Creative Sonoma $300,000 to fund a grants program to continue supporting the arts.
The recommended budget suggested the reduction of 92 positions. However, through add-backs and restorations the Board was able to restore 52 of the 92 positions.
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. “We continue to advocate for grants and seek reimbursements from Federal and State sources but we must plan as if we aren’t going to receive any assistance,” said Rabbitt.