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Finances, growth top Petaluma City Council's goals

Priority list includes medical pot regulation, fairgrounds, promoting business climate

Published: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 4:02 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 7:39 a.m.

Financial stability, healthy growth and finding new revenue sources are top goals for Petaluma city leaders in the next two years.

The seven members of the City Council met in a daylong workshop last month to hash out a priority list for the next two years. Tonight, the council will formally vote on the goals intended to make Petaluma a safer, more prosperous place to live, work and shop.

The changes will result in an "aggressive work plan" to help the city get back on firm financial footing and rebuild its rainy day fund, City Manager John Brown said.

Among dozens of ideas and objectives, the plan includes a new position in the finance department that will cost more than $100,000 a year.

"This position will need to have sufficient technical and professional skills to conduct complex analyses and perform all the ancillary work associated with those tasks," Brown said.

Brown said he would bring the position to the council soon, with a funding source.

The city has reduced its workforce over each of the past five years as the general fund budget has shrunk from $48 million in 2008 to about $32 million this year. Services have been cut or privatized, and workers accepted unpaid furloughs and pay cuts.

Among the financial stability priorities are reducing debt service in all city funds, reducing unfunded pension liabilities and developing a plan to meet the 15 percent general fund reserve goal. Currently the reserve is at about 3 percent.

The council also wants to find revenues to replace the loss of redevelopment money and, among other ideas, will consider placing a sales tax increase on the 2014 ballot.

The council also wants to come up with a policy to regulate medical marijuana "grow houses." The city has no medical marijuana dispensaries and no guidelines on the cultivation of the plant in private homes.

In a new goal this year, the council will seek to "realize the potential of the fairgrounds as an economic engine" and start a joint city-fair board planning effort for the property.

The fairgrounds are inside city limits but governed by a state-appointed board of directors. Fair directors also are considering their own economic development options.

The council wants to encourage transit-oriented growth around the planned downtown SMART train station and continue updating the development review process to make it easier for consumers to navigate.

Attracting and retaining businesses in Petaluma continues to be a goal, with a priority on attracting new businesses "that add value" to the community and pay head-of-household wages.

The city also hopes to implement a marketing program to promote Petaluma as a business center, specifically for food and beverage processing, manufacturing and alternative energy businesses.

Under the goal of "maintaining a safe Petaluma," the council wants to expand the LED streetlight replacement program, repair sidewalks more efficiently, upgrade pavement maintenance practices and complete flood-control projects.

To work more efficiently, the council hopes to conduct at least 10 public workshops a year to consider in-depth issues, including the budget, wastewater funding and street improvements, in greater detail.

A "parking lot issue," one that remains on hold pending new developments, is Lafferty Ranch.

A group of individuals, with city endorsement, has sued property owners adjacent to Lafferty Ranch in a move that could revive a decades-old -- and politically contentious -- effort to open 270 acres of city-owned land to public use.

The ranch, formerly a source of city water, is nestled among privately held dairy ranch and vineyard properties just east of Petaluma. A small strip of land at Lafferty's entry point is under dispute and has barred public access from the rolling hills that offer panoramic views to the ocean and bay.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

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