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News Blast

By P. Joseph Potocki

Dum de dum dum

With the budget axe set to decapitate many Sonoma County public services, public information officer Jim Toomey says that while the current board of supervisors have plenty of experience in such matters, "no one has confronted a situation as dire as the one we are now faced with." Just to make certain his point is fully taken, Toomey hammers the coffin shut. "We've never seen a situation as bad as this."

By this weekend, Sonoma County residents should know the extent to which county services will be cut back or eliminated from this year's budget. The results are bound to hurt lots of people, since $21 million needs to be trimmed from the county budget, amounting to 15 percent of the baseline general fund.

Expect cuts to veterans advocacy services, a reduction in beds at the Orenda drug and alcohol rehab center, cuts to home healthcare providers and the furloughing of some county parks and rec employees. Also, as previously detailed in this section, expect route reductions in Sonoma County Transit service, as well as reductions in human services, the courts, the sheriff's department, capital projects, information services, mental health, permit and resource management—in short, expect less of every service the county provides.

That said, Jim Toomey says, things could be even worse. "Some counties are facing 40 percent cuts," he warns. But even here in affluent Sonoma County, an expected additional $10 million shortfall from property taxes this year foreshadows further service cutbacks through the next few years.

As painful as these cutbacks are, it can't be said that the board of supervisor's didn't make a concerted effort to solicit input and ideas. The process began months ago with a series of budget workshops held throughout the county. A media campaign was launched in print and over the airwaves to encourage citizen input in workshops, by snail mail or online.

Close to a thousand Sonoma County residents chose to participate in the budget process in some way, but more than one-third of the workshop attendees were county employees, and seven of 10 survey respondents reported earning more than the county's median income. Since participants could both attend workshops and submit surveys it's likely the total number of citizen participants was considerably less than the stated thousand-person total, meaning fewer than one-quarter of 1 percent of the county's residents have opted to have their voices heard.

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