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Nonprofits Take a Hit During Budget Talks

Cit Council asks agencies to take same cuts as city departments.

Several of Sonoma’s most prominent nonprofit agencies were dealt a 12 percent budget decrease as the city council grappled with some troublesome financial figures.

The Sonoma City Council met Thursday night in a perfunctory budget workshop, but took action on its four primary nonprofit agencies, determined to make the programs meet the same demands placed on city departments. The , , and were all dealt budget slashes.

Councilman Tom Rouse set the tone of the meeting when he pointed out city departments were asked to meet 12-percent cutbacks saying, “Perhaps a 12-percent reduction is an option everyone can live with.”

Due to governmental constraints and imposed deadlines, the city council was forced to take action on the Sonoma Community Center’s budget that night, even though it was just the first budget workshop for the 2011-12 financial plan.

Kathy Swett, the community center’s executive director, said the agency’s partnership with Sonoma was “valuable.” The center and its staff oversee the July 4 festivities and the annual city party, which Swett said was “well-loved.”

The center also operates a wide range of cultural and educational programs. Swett said a program partnered with local water agencies fostering water conservation will soon serve as a model for other communities. She said the center also plans to have volunteers trained so that the facility could serve as a resource in case of an emergency.

Mayor Pro Tem Joanne Sanders recused herself from the community center discussion as she lives near enough to the facility to cause a conflict of interest. Her remaining four colleagues praised Swett, her staff and the center’s functions but wasted little time before getting to the point — belts had to be tightened.

“I want to fund them,” said Councilman Steve Barbose of all of the “Tier 1” nonprofit agencies. “They provide valuable services.” He added the agencies being reviewed offered the city a bargain, providing services at a lower rate than the private sector — or governmental agencies — could match. “We get a bang for our buck.” The Tier 1 agencies more or less replace a municipal parks department.

Still, Barbose hinted he would ask all of the Tier 1 nonprofits to accept a 12 percent hit, even though the only one demanding immediate action was the community center. The statement caused some confusion among the council, as Mayor Laurie Gallian mentioned she was thinking of requiring a 10 percent cut and Councilman Ken Brown didn’t want to discuss any of the remaining agencies until after the community center’s funding was finalized.

Once the dust settled, the council voted 4-0 to reduce municipal funding to the community center from its proposed $30,000 to $26,400, setting the stage for several other nonprofit agencies also asking for revenue from city coffers.

Dave Pier, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley, said his agency serves about 500 people a day and helps “keep kids safe.” He added that the club was requesting significantly less than what the city had provided in past years; the request for the upcoming fiscal year was $58,000 compared to the more than $70,000 that had been allotted between 2005-08.

Up next was Richard Dale of the Sonoma Ecology Center, who said the city’s funding provided him leverage in securing other sources of revenue but he understood the council’s need for “belt-tightening.” The Ecology Center tends to the area’s watershed and other environmental matters.

Cindy Scarborough represented Vintage House, a nonprofit serving senior citizens. She said baby boomers are aging and the agency faces greater demands, but conceded, “We know that times are tough.”

Councilman Brown sought to treat the agencies individually, saying, “I’m of the mind that they are not all in the same boat.” He wanted to preserve all the requested funding to the Boys and Girls Club and Vintage House, but on a 4-1 vote the council opted for a sweeping 12 percent cutback on city funds to all of the nonprofits.

The Boys and Girls Club will receive $51,040, the Ecology Center $19,360 and Vintage House $26,400 from city funding. For all of these agencies, city funds are only a segment of their revenue streams.

The city’s budget is not balanced, running at a $170,000 deficit. Staff reports indicated core revenue sources (property taxes, tourism, sales taxes) had “bottomed out” and stagnate but there were “signs of recovery.”

With the state budget not yet finalized and ongoing negotiation with unions still pending, the budget involved some guesswork and statistics culled from recent months in place of concrete projections. Pension increases were expected to hit hard, around $120,000.

A staff report called upon the city council to plan for the long term, as recent cuts were “stop-gap” and the need for reliable revenue streams was apparent. The city is projecting a 2012 budget of about $11,500,000.

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