Firestorm costs add to budget cuts in Santa Rosa

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- On a seemingly perfect day in Santa Rosa, visitors hadn't a care in the world. High above, blue skies--- not a storm cloud on the horizon, and yet, in a conference room off-campus from Santa Rosa City Hall, we found worried faces.

"Has Santa Rosa ever faced anything like this?" we asked Mayor Chris Coursey.

"No. Never. No city has."

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In Santa Rosa, stress from last fall's firestorm has come home to roost on the city budget. Santa Rosa needs to cut $14.5 million dollars -- almost ten percent.

Fire left the city's reserve fund severely depleted.

"I don't think we should be hurting the economy to build the reserve fund today," said City Council member Julie Coombs. "Build the economy. Then the fund."

Like many cities, Santa Rosa already faced financial stress due to rising employee costs, their health care, and retirement. Those are 80 percent of the problem, according to Mayor Coursey. "We had planned to address them in the last year. We got sidetracked by the fire."

The city spent $5 million on the fire in just the first month, and now faces more issues. Replacing benzene-contaminated pipes in Fountaingrove, for instance, may cost $40 million.

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Then there's the $4.1 million fire station that burned. FEMA has offered only $1 million to replace it.

And, the homeless population remains an issue. Will the city cut there? Dave Gouin, who runs Housing and Community services, sees a cascade of potential issues. "The city supports more than 188 shelter bed so if there was a reduction there, I would be concerned they would exit to an encampment."

Any budget changes would take effect next year.

Voters may make the ultimate decisions regarding a possible housing bond, and increases in hotel and sales taxes.

For more stories, photos, and video on the North Bay fires, visit this page.
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