Jun 28, 2017
by Lynda Hopkins, 5th District Supervisor - Sonoma County
On June 17, the Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the 2017-2018 County Budget. While “adopting a budget” sounds like a spectacularly boring bureaucratic procedure — and it does indeed involve an endless procession of spreadsheets, pie charts, and thick binders brimming with graphs — the budgeting process tells an important story. Any budget worth its salt reflects the values of the organization adopting it.
While the County’s budget did not significantly expand from the prior fiscal year, we are nonetheless making significant investments in roads, affordable housing, public safety, fire and emergency services, and reducing homelessness.
But before we dive into the details, let’s cover a bit of background. How big is the County’s budget, and where does the money come from? The County’s new budget is $1.59 billion. Much of that is comprised of state and federal funding: money earmarked for specific, mandated purposes. The multipurpose money known as the General Fund — money over which the County can exercise discretion — is $471.8 million. (And for those of you who are wondering where your property taxes disappear to, it’s worth pointing out that only 27 cents for every property tax dollar you pay goes to the County!)
While I can’t promise that the County roads you commute on will be repaved tomorrow, I can promise that we are working hard to repave as many roads as possible. The Board of Supervisors is investing an unprecedented amount of General Fund money in local roads: $20 million, which includes $4 million to address road damages inflicted by our severe winter. (Unfortunately, although we did declare a state of emergency, FEMA will not cover the full extent of the damage.)
More than half of the General Fund goes to public safety services — providing for the operations of Sheriff’s Department, as well as the County jail. The General Fund also goes to support our public safety net, such as senior services and mental health support.
Something I’ve been personally working on is how we should spend Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT, or hotel bed tax) revenues. Last year, voters approved Measure L, which increased the TOT collected in unincorporated areas by three percent. Measure L will generate an additional $5 million for the County this year. Chairwoman Shirlee Zane and I proposed to our colleagues on the Board that we divide Measure L money between roads, parks, fire services, affordable housing, repairing our aging veterans halls, and addressing the impacts of tourism in our small unincorporated towns. Roads, parks, and fire services will be allocated $1 million (20% of total) each.
Since I represent West County, I’m particularly excited about a few investments that we’ll be making in the Fifth District this year. My fellow Supervisors supported a proposal I brought forth during budget hearings to invest $1 million to address homelessness in the Russian River area. The Community Development Commission will come up with a plan for how best to spend that money — including rehousing efforts as well as addressing public safety concerns. I’m hoping that through a comprehensive strategy, working in partnership with community non-profits, we can reduce homelessness, improve health and reduce mortality in the homeless population (we lose homeless residents at a rate of one person per month in the Russian River area), and reduce the environmental impacts of homeless encampments (which affect our water quality).
I’m also thrilled to announce that we approved $500,000 to fully fund the completion of Andy’s Unity Park. The final design will include all of the amenities agreed upon by the community: a basketball court, skate spot, and space for community gardens, to name a few. Andy’s Unity Park, named in honor of Andy Lopez, is an important step in the long journey of the community’s healing process. Hopefully, it will be a place where families will come together in peace and enjoyment.
On the other side of the far-flung Fifth District, docks in Bodega Bay will be seeing some new life thanks to the newly approved budget. $150,000 of General Fund dollars will be added to $160,000 in the Tidelands Fund, which is generated by slip fees, to complete the $310,000 dock renovation and restoration project.
Finally, I have some exciting news about things to come. Since creating affordable housing is one of the County’s top priorities — the Chairwoman’s slogan this year is “Build, Baby, Build” — the County is moving forward with purchasing the old, derelict Water Agency property on West College Avenue. Located right next to a transit center, aquatic center, and park, this property is the perfect place for workforce housing and could be a beautiful example of affordable, city-centered, transit-oriented growth.
I am looking forward to engaging the community in the development of this project, and would encourage you to come to our first “visioning” meeting: Wednesday, Aug 2, 2017 at 6PM at the Finley Center. I am hoping to work with you, the taxpayers, to help plan an inspiring affordable housing development. Because if we can’t figure out a way to ensure that all Sonoma County residents — across the income spectrum — can afford the security of a roof over their heads, our County will not be sustainable. Access to housing is directly related to our economic vitality, the health and happiness of our residents, and our environmental sustainability as a community. I look forward to working with you to bring affordable, infill housing to Sonoma County.
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