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Burning Money

OPINION: County Budget Hit by Fire

May 1, 2018
by Vesta Copestakes

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Sonoma County is facing seemingly insurmountable Budget issues, in part, resulting from the horrendous fires last fall. Everything has been expensive, from firefighting to cleanup and recovery.

The question now is: “How does the County move forward in coping with the immense budget disparity?”

A hard look at the value each Division brings to the County, and to our future, needs to be part of the equation. It is tempting to make quick decisions that seem to bring revenue and expenditures closer in balance by cutting what may appear “non-essential.” Hasty, short-sighted decisions can impact the future for generations. The biggest mistake individuals make when in a crisis is not thinking through the consequences of decisions made under duress.

Why is thinking about consequences important?

The County is seriously considering defunding the Energy and Sustainability Division (ESD). ESD receives a $400K contribution from the General Fund (.025% of the overall $1.6B County budget) but augments this $400K contribution by leveraging an additional $1.5M from other sources annually, plus generating $7.5M in grant funding for the County. In the process, ESD has brought 1564 jobs to the County; reduced CO2 by 69,803 metric tons; facilitated $3.7M in utility rebates; provided $78M in energy upgrades through PACE financing; made possible 1.6 mega-watts of solar on County properties; and more.

Long-term thinking

What is the greatest long-term threat to us at this time? Climate change! The October fires were exacerbated by climate change, which isn’t going away. The impacts will only become more extreme, leaving the County and its citizens more vulnerable. The County has encouraged Cities to adopt measures addressing climate change and yet, because of the fires and unexpected expenses from the fires, they are seriously considering abandoning this commitment to save money.

Sonoma County is a world leader in addressing climate change on a practical, local level. The County signed the Paris Agreement and was a major participant in a lawsuit against the Federal Government when it attempted to end the financing program that helped people make upgrades addressing climate change.

The Energy and Sustainability Division is a leader in creating innovative programs that mitigate climate change and is recognized around the world for its proactive, innovative approach to addressing these issues. The Division communicates with numerous states and cities as they develop programs, sharing information to help further sustainability elsewhere as well as here at home.

The small group of dedicated people in ESD began building the Division during the recession, establishing a foundation of technical expertise and experience that has resulted in retrofits and improvements, as well as disseminating information through 330 Green Business Certifications and 38,000 events, workshops, inquiries, and consultations.

ESD has continued to demonstrate its ability to adapt in response to the needs of the community by offering Rebuild Consultations for those who lost their homes or need to make repairs from fire damage. This is an extraordinary opportunity to address climate change while reconstructing infrastructure in-line with what is needed for the future. If we rebuild with Green Technology and sustainability in mind, we can use this disaster as the perfect opportunity to rebuild with climate change in mind.

The drive and focus to make an impact on climate change that has been growing over these last twelve years. Now is not the time to defund this program that largely sustains itself while contributing a broad-spectrum of value to Sonoma County in the present and into the future.

What can we do?

Write to the Board of Supervisors; talk with your district Supervisor; appear at any County Board of Supervisor meeting and share your experiences and thoughts during Public Comments.

The June 12th B of S agenda includes ESD/PACE financing. This is an excellent opportunity to show your support for this program that benefits Sonoma County now, and into the future.

Make your voice heard

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

575 Administration Drive, Rm 100A, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Telephone: 707-565-2241, Fax: 707-565-3778

1st District:
Susan Gorin
Susan.Gorin@sonoma-county.org

2nd District:
David Rabbitt
David.Rabbitt@sonoma-county.org

3rd District:
Shirlee Zane
shirlee.zane@sonoma-county.org

4th District:
James Gore
District4@sonoma-county.org

5th District:
Lynda Hopkins
Lynda.Hopkins@sonoma-county.org

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