One of government’s most important responsibilities is to manage the taxpayers’ money responsibly.
Fortunately, the city is in good financial condition. 10 years ago, we were on the verge of bankruptcy. In recent years, things have changed. Our budgets are balanced, we do not spend temporary revenues on on-going expenses, we set aside funding to replace our infrastructure such as water and sewer systems when the need arises and we have healthy reserves (much like a family’s emergency savings account). While a strong economy has helped, our residents’ approval of Measures E and A to pay a higher sales tax makes a tremendous difference in allowing us to provide quality services and remain fiscally solvent. Additionally, our streets are in decent shape and the new gas tax approved by voters will help them stay that way and allow us to make steady improvements.
Still, there are challenges. We have many facilities, such as parks and buildings, which are overdue for upgrades. As is common for many cities, we have substantial long-term liabilities for pensions and health care for retired employees. And we are lean; our levels of staff for a city this size is smaller than most.
So, while we are overall in good shape today, we need to be ready for when conditions change. Or, as farmers put it, when times are good we should put some extra hay in the barn so we’re ready when the crops don’t come in as well as we hope. I’d like to let you know what we’re doing to prepare for the lean times.
We have established an ‘early warning system’ so that we know sooner rather than later if tough times are coming. The warning system keeps us on the lookout for slowing or declining revenue over the short term (six months), revenues coming in below budget and lower revenue from hotel and sales taxes. Additionally, we keep an eye on the economy – both nationally and regionally – to identify signs of economic weakness.
If the warning signs are there, we reduce our spending in some areas to retain a consistent level of services. Some areas where we plan to temporarily cut back are contributions to our reserves, spending on infrastructure and other major purchases and reducing operating expenses by up to 5 percent.
Preparing for a fiscal downturn is not pleasant, but I believe it is prudent. It reflects our core values, particularly being fiscally responsible. We also have this plan to communicate with our residents about our situation and the use of your taxes. Finally, planning ahead with the level of detail we’ve developed is innovative and creative; most cities have reserves and follow many of our practices, but we’re proud to be taking our responsibility for your money to the next level of preparation.
In celebration of World Water Day, the city is partnering with the Rotary Club of Rohnert Park-Cotati to clean up Copeland Creek; you are invited to join us. World Water Day is celebrated on March 22 every year and focuses on the 2.1 billion people living without safe drinking water.
Copeland Creek descends from Sonoma Mountain, crossing Sonoma State University and the city before discharging into the Laguna de Santa Rosa near Rohnert Park Expressway and Stony Point Road. The water eventually flows into the Russian River, our primary source of drinking water. Some of our most cherished and rare wildlife that call the creek home include Steelhead Trout, Red-Legged Frog and the Pacific Giant Salamander.
Copeland Creek is frequently subject to littering, illegal dumping and homeless encampments. City staff removes trash and debris periodically from our creeks to prevent pollutants from entering the Russian River. The Rotary Club will assist the city in clean-up efforts on World Water Day and we encourage additional volunteers to join us.
We will be cleaning the creek from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on both Thursday, March 22 and Saturday, March 24. For information to volunteer please contact the city’s Environmental Coordinator, Nick Bennett at 588-3302.