Council holds special meeting to discuss budget priorities

, , May 18, 2021


At the last city council meeting, Mayor Una Glass, who is also on the budget subcommittee, began a discussion on the topic of “Relaunching Sebastopol,” but that turned almost immediately into a request for guidance from the council as a whole about city priorities.

“This is just one of several issues that are outstanding, leading into our budget process, that I think are beyond the scope of being decisions for us to make as a budget subcommittee,” Glass said at the meeting.

She requested that the city council have a special meeting to discuss priorities before the budget subcommittee moved forward with the budget, which is due to be presented to the city council for approval in June.

The Budget Priority Meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday, May 19 from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Zoom, was set up in response to her request.

A bit about the budget process

Each year, the city is required to adopt an annual budget. Here’s how that happens:

Each city department submits its proposed budget for the upcoming year to be reviewed by the budget subcommittee, which is made up of Mayor Glass, Councilmember Neysa Hinton, City Manager/Attorney Larry McLaughlin, Assistant City Manager/City Clerk Mary Gourley and Administrative Services Director Anna Kwong.

The budget subcommittee meets with all the department directors and goes over their budgets with them. It also meets with and examines the budgets of local nonprofits that have applied to receive community grants.

The review begins in March and ends when the budget is approved in June by the City Council.

Glass said if she had her druthers, the process would start in January and February with the kind of in-depth discussions about goals and priorities they will now try to shoehorn into the May 19 meeting.

When Glass got the proposed budget this year, she noticed that several things were missing—in part because of the uncertainty of the budget during COVID and in part because several things the city council expressed a desire to do simply didn’t get incorporated into the budget.

What they’re going to talk about at Wednesday’s meeting

New money coming in

Sebastopol expects to receive $1.4 million in COVID relief funds from the federal government, with half of that delivered in May 2021 and the other half coming next year in May 2022.

The city will also be receiving $370,000 in Project Home Key funds from the state, funneled through the county’s Community Development Commission, in compensation for locating a homeless shelter—Elderberry Commons (the former Sebastopol Inn)—in Sebastopol. This is a one-time payment.

Glass is happy about the influx of new funds, of course, but cautions that these funds don’t come close to making up what the city has lost in revenue due to the financial downturn caused by COVID.

“I think we were down about $2 million in terms of revenue,” she said.  “And we don’t really know what the next year’s going to look like.”

New items for the budget

The city’s staff report for the meeting lists the following items for discussion.

1) Discussion of how to “Relaunch Sebastopol” and how to fund that.

2) Discussion of how to use the $370,000 in funding from the County of Sonoma. Some options include:

  • Working with local organizations to build relationships with homeless individuals, such as those living on Morris Street and elsewhere, to assist them in finding services, education and resources to help them become self-sufficient.
  • Consideration of consulting with CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets), a mobile crisis intervention team, designed as an alternative to police response for non-violent crises.
  • Consideration of a pilot program for Downtown Streets Team, which is a work-experience program that provides volunteer opportunities for men and women experiencing homelessness.
  • Discussion of safe overnight parking, to be located at church sites within Sebastopol, with intake and support services provided by a local organization such as West County Community Services.

3) Discussion of funding for community vitality consultant, CoMission.

4) Discussion of recommendations from the ad hoc committee that has been reviewing city policies on grants and sponsorships.

5) Discussion of funding related to fire and emergency services.

6) Discussion of any funding for the Climate Action Subcommittee.

7) Discussion of funding for consultants on municipal financial management, including revenue enhancements and management of capital assets and debt.

The mayor would prefer…

Asked to name her top three priorities for the meeting, Glass named these: discovering new ways to increase revenue for the town; investments in publicizing Sebastopol as a destination for Bay Area visitors as a way of helping local businesses; and homeless initiatives.

“My hope is that as a council we can expend some funds to make our asset management and debt more efficient and decide how we can move forward with producing more revenue, because that’s a really basic problem,” she said.

“We should also be investing in publicizing our town as a destination, doing whatever is needed to assist our businesses in getting back up and moving along with good revenue and sales.”

Finally, she said, “I want to identify what we’re going to do with the $370,000 we’re getting from the county in terms of both social service outreach and Cahoots-style initiatives that are going to cut down on petty crime and and make everybody feel more comfortable.”

Find links for the meeting here: