Petaluma city leaders agreed late Monday to tighten the budget belt one more notch.
In another round of cuts that trim about 5 percent from the 2012-13 general fund, the $32.5 million spending plan should maintain priority services and put the city on course to begin rebuilding a rainy day fund.
That's assuming tax revenues rise, pension investments perform, health care costs don't skyrocket and there aren't any major municipal emergencies.
City Council members agreed there's a lot to have heartburn about in the budget.
Vice Mayor Tiffany Renee cast the sole vote against the spending plan shortly before midnight after the council engaged in lengthy discussions on each department's revenues and spending proposals.
"I continue to be frustrated by the cuts we've had to make in services," she said. "We sort of have danced around the fact that we keep hoping it's going to change for the better. But we have not really discussed the solution for improving the situation in the future."
She proposed putting a sales-tax hike on the November ballot or at least gauging public support for it.
Mayor David Glass said that issue may be something the community can discuss in the future, but he noted that such a tax increase wouldn't provide relief until well into next year.
Every department head was asked to return suggestions to cut about 5 percent of their respective budgets, totaling about $1.5 million.
Interim Police Chief Danny Fish proposed $635,000 in cuts toward a goal of trimming $720,000 from his department's $14.4 million budget. The plan freezes a vacant police officer position, a vacant dispatcher slot and eliminates a temporary officer job.
One major decision that had the potential for controversy &#8211; whether to outsource Animal Services to a nonprofit or keep it in-house and lay off an animal control officer to save money &#8211; was solved by the collaboration of employees and volunteers.
The council agreed unanimously to pursue a contract with the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation, led by shelter workers and volunteers, to be incorporated into the final budget.
City Manager John Brown said the move "will essentially be a wash" financially, but it will offer jobs to all current city shelter employees and perhaps allow growth as a nonprofit that was impossible as a city division.
The employees would be paid less and receive drastically reduced benefits as employees of the nonprofit instead of the city. But shelter director Jeff Charter said all the employees supported the move.
Board member Sue Davy said employees were nervous but "excited to continue the work they've been doing."
Councilman Chris Albertson argued against police department cuts, saying public safety should be the city's top priority. Albertson was the city's fire chief for several years.
Councilman Mike Healy agreed, but said: "Quite frankly, I don't see any other alternative in this budget. That's the unfortunate reality."
Renee noted that while several citizens spoke in support of the Animal Services department, no one showed up to protest cuts to youth programs and services for the homeless.