Cotati paints bleak picture of future
Council addresses possibility of disincorporation, elimination of police department if Measure G fails
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By Dave Williams  May 2, 2014 12:00 am

The Cotati City Council at a special meeting for a budget study session on Tuesday night painted a bleak picture of what the future of the city could be should voters fail to pass Measure G, which is on the upcoming June ballot.

Measure G calls for a half-cent city sales tax increase, bringing the rate from its current level of 8.75 percent to 9.25. During the special one-hour meeting held in a meeting room at the Cotati Police Dept., several drastic, even draconian measures were discussed, including disincorporation of the city.

“Disincorporation is an option if the city is unable to continue as a viable financial entity,” Cotati City Manager Dianne Thompson said.

The consensus among the council was if Measure G fails to get the necessary 55 percent approval, there will be a huge reduction in the amount of services the city can provide. To that end, they prepared two budgets – Budget A if the measure passes and a conceptual Budget B should it fail. The conceptual budget is around $3 million.

Budget A will be presented to the Cotati City Council either at its next meeting on May 22 or sometime in June. The conceptual budget will not be brought to the council until after the June 3 election.

Cotati Mayor John Dell’Osso, who joined the meeting via telephone from Bandera, Texas, was encouraged by the stance taken by the Sonoma County Tax Association.

“The Sonoma County Tax Association took a look at our situation and for them to come out and say they will not be opposing this tax is huge,” Dell’Osso said. “I have a lot of confidence the citizens will pass this tax measure. We’re not looking to fill our pocketbooks, we’re looking to keep a city running. And you can’t run a city on a small budget like this…it wouldn’t make sense.”

Budget A is a status quo budget, but the conceptual Budget B includes a 96 percent reduction in the council’s budget, a 45 percent decrease in the city manager’s office and a 45 percent decrease to the police department, on which 54 percent of Cotati’s current $4.9 million budget is spent. 

Law enforcement services, including local dispatch, would be drastically reduced or eliminated and contracted out to an outside agency, such as the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office or even Rohnert Park Dept. of Public Safety. Councilwoman Susan Harvey said loss of local law enforcement also could have a financial impact.

“Property crimes and insurance rates will go up with no local law enforcement,” she said. “And forget about economic development. What business would want to come to a city with no services.”

The finance and community development departments would see decreases of 22 and 21 percent, respectively, while public works and engineering would take a hit of about 10 percent. Also, the city believes its representation on regional or county boards severely minimalized.

The council also discussed selling off some city-owned buildings, including the police facility, the community center and potentially city hall if Measure G doesn’t pass. City Hall also would be open only one day a week, the council warned, and there would be minimal maintenance of roads and parks.

“It would be disturbing to me to even call this a city if these things happened,” Councilman Mark Landman said. “At this (conceptual budget level) everything would be contracted out, and we’re not sure what the end result will be. This is really unacceptable.”

Cotati in 2010 passed Measure A, which increased the sales tax a half cent to its current 8.75 percent level. It was credited with allowing Cotati to maintain its police department but is due to expire in 2015.

The city staff showed a chart showing projected losses in revenue following the expiration of Measure A should voters reject the tax extension. For fiscal year 2016-17, the loss would be a little more than $1 million. That total would jump to close to $3 million for 2017-18 and near $5 million for 2018-19.

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