The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors adopted the 2017-18 fiscal budget on June 15. The budget allocates a record $20 million toward road improvement.

‘Biggest investment in roads by the county’

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ adoption of the 2017-18 budget last week will provide more money for housing, roads and ongoing critical community services while preparing the county for future years of fiscal uncertainty.

After four days of public hearings, the board of supervisors approved a $1.59 billion budget, roughly 2.5 percent more than last year.

“We’ve set aside money for affordable housing, infrastructure, roads,” Fourth District Supervisor James Gore said. “This is the biggest investment in roads in county history.”

Overall, the budget reflects funding for countywide strategic initiatives, including resource conservation for healthy watersheds, investing and incentivizing housing for all, rebuilding infrastructure and providing security to those most vulnerable, including children, seniors and people with disabilities.

“This was really, really good work,” said board chair Shirlee Zane, praising county administrator Sheryl Bratton on her first county budget.

Furthermore, the adopted budget will force the county toward a structurally balanced budget. According to Bratton, the county historically has operated under a statutorily balanced budget, which relies on year-end fund balances to fund the next year’s budget. In other words, departments were required to spend less than what they were allotted in order to have funds for the following year.

“I believe this process is not transparent to the public,” Bratton wrote in her cover letter to the board of supervisors.

At the end of the four days, Gore, who has worked for more board and budget transparency, was glad to finish the hearings with so much public conversation and deliberation.

“We have had a good dialogue,” Gore said.

That dialogue led to the board’s largest allocation to roads ever, Gore said.

“We’re putting $20 million into the roads,” he said.

That money comes from the county’s general fund. According to Gore, the county has invested around $11 million annually from the general fund. This year’s additional funds are boosted by expected new transient occupancy tax funds ($1 million), storm damage funds ($4 million) and an extra $5 million general fund allocation approved by the board.

“We want to make sure we didn’t miss a beat due to the historical flooding,” Gore said, adding that the county has made great headway in its dedication to fixing county roads.

Exactly which roads will be fixed is still up in the air, though the county maintains a list of improvement projects. Gore said the board will discuss a maintenance schedule for 2017-18 and 2018-19, which the $20 million will go toward, at a later date.

General fund and TOT funds were also granted to the county fire department.

“In all, we allocated $1.2 million for fire,” Gore said. “This will help go toward vehicle replacement and equipment replacement.”

Gore and Supervisor David Rabbitt will be working on a proposal on how to allocate those funds. Gore expects to return to the board in the fall.

The divvying up of capital improvement funds will benefit the Windsor area. The Windsor area can expect the preservation of surrounding green space. South of Windsor, the Mark West and Carrington properties will be transferred from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District to Regional Parks for the creation of new parks.

“Windsor will see new park area,” Gore said. “Riverfront Park is the biggie.”

Riverfront Park received $50,000 for design and construction of park access for picnicking and boating in the park. Elements of the project include boating access to Lake Wilson, Lake Benoist and the Russian River, with additional picnic areas and trail improvements plus restoration in the redwood grove area. The entire project is estimated at $461,300. With the new allocation, only $35,000 more is needed to complete the work. 

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