Archive » June 21, 2012
Buellton considers cuts to services
By Jeremy Foster, Staff Writer
The adoption of Buellton’s 2012-13 budget at the upcoming June 28 meeting could mean the elimination of a traffic deputy, a community resources deputy and the closure of the Buellton Sheriff’s substation.
The Buellton City Council on June 14 took another look at the city’s annual contract for police services with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and concluded that cuts would likely happen. But the council in a 4-1 vote, with councilman Ed Andrisek dissenting, agreed to postpone approving any reductions until city staff met with Sheriff’s Department officials in closed session to negotiate the proposed cuts.
The slashing would save the city $173,320. Police services will cost $1.7 million – an increase of $81,267, or 4%, from the current year, which ends June 30. The total cost of a deputy sheriff is $206,911. It includes salary, retirement and health benefits, worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, liability insurance and administrative overhead.
Doug Martin, Chief Financial Officer of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, provided a PowerPoint presentation outlining the city’s cost to provide police services, the benefits of those services and the consequences of cutting.
“You’re getting a basic level of service,” Martin told the council. “To reduce your costs, you reduce the levels of service. There won’t be much room for flexibility.”
The city funds 8.25 full-time equivalent positions, including 4.71 sheriff’s deputies who provide around-the-clock service. Council members mulled cutting one-third of a detective position. “That would mean you’d no longer have crimes investigated in the city,” Martin said matter-of-factly. “It’s a little more than a deputy on the street can handle in between his calls for service. Eliminate the detective and you’ll create problems for yourself down the road, and I don’t think your community would be happy with it.”
The traffic officer dedicates most of his time near schools, known traffic hazard areas, and during special events, according to Sheriff’s Lt. Brad McVay. Cutting a traffic deputy would save the city $90,911. The Indian Gaming Grant, which varies by the year, absorbs $116,000 of the $206,911 it costs to fund the position. McVay told the council that in 2011, traffic enforcement reduced traffic accidents by 45%, lowered the average vehicular speed to 8 miles below the speed limit and produced more than 900 citations, translating to $40,500 in revenue for the city.
The community resource deputy focuses on crime prevention programs, neighborhood watch and education for businesses, youth and parents, and would work with school districts to enforce the recently passed truancy program. She also attends special events, including those put on by the Buellton Recreation Center. Axing this position would save $68,000. A COPS grant provides $100,000 in funding to the position.
The closure of the Buellton substation would close with the nixing of the office professional, who costs the city $109,875, an amount partly offset by the city of Lompoc. The cut would save the city $82,409. Closing the station would force residents to travel to Lompoc to handle issues such as tow releases and fee charges, said McVay, who is also police chief in Solvang, home of the Solvang-Santa Ynez Valley substation, and head of the Lompoc Valley substation.
Andrisek supported a motion to cut the three positions because the city has been “blindsided” by rising police service costs. “I feel we get our money’s worth with the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “But we can’t be spending more than we’re taking in. This city cannot operate under a deficit.”
Mayor pro tem Dave King called the benefits and administration costs for some employees “a little outrageous.”
“The governor of the state of California does not make that kind of money,” he said, referring to the salary and benefits of a lieutenant.
“People are expensive,” said McVay. “That being said, I’ve never stood between an armed assailant and a victim and hear that victim complain about my wages. But I certainly recognize your concerns.”
Those concerns, Martin noted, had a lot to do with the rising cost of retirement which isn’t set by the department.
“These salaries and the cost of fully-loaded folks are ridiculous,” councilwoman Judith Dale said. “I understand it’s the system. But we just cannot have that on our backs.”
In other city news, a split council agreed to place an initiative before voters that would help promote tourism and spur economic development. Councilman Andrisek and King opposed the action and argued that increasing taxes would cause more harm than good, especially if the city’s revenue doesn’t rebound.
But Ralph Hanson, city attorney, later realized a four-fifths vote was required to approve the resolution placing a ballot initiative before voters. The council held a special meeting on Tuesday and decided in a 4-1 vote to support the initiative, with Andrisek dissenting. At the June 14 meeting, Dale said she didn’t think an increase in the bed tax would discourage tourism. “The last thing we want to do is drive people away,” she said. “But I cannot imagine someone making a decision not to come to the Santa Ynez Valley because of a dollar or two.”
Although there was agreement that revenue generated by an increase should go toward tourism, the council decided against supporting a special tax because, unlike a general tax increase that only requires a simple majority, it would require a two-thirds majority of votes.
In 2011, the city’s TOT revenues were $1.2 million, representing a 2.5% increase from the prior year. An estimated $200,000 or so in additional revenue could be generated by the new tax, according to the staff report.
The unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County and the cities of Solvang, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Goleta and Carpinteria all tax at 10%, while Guadalupe taxes at 6% and Santa Barbara at 12%. The Solvang City Council on June 11 voted 4-1 to back an initiative to increase its bed tax to 12%.
General manager Mike Hendrick of the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott, representing the Santa Ynez Valley Hotel Association, told council members the group would support the increase only if the money were used to boost tourism.
He noted that Solvang voters defeated an effort to increase that city’s tax years ago, and he said that of 208 cities in California, 10% was the average rate. He said that if Buellton’s voters passed the measure and other jurisdictions didn’t, the city would rank 13th for the amount of taxes people are charges to visit the city.
Mayor Holly Sierra said she does not take taxes lightly, but noted that Buellton has not increased its bed tax in 15 years.
“While I appreciate that the majority of cities in California have 10% or lower, I’d be curious to find out how many are going to put it on the ballot this year,” she said. “All the cities are hurting, and we want to support our visitor’s bureau, but we don’t have the funds in our budget.”
Andrisek said it would be more prudent to directly provide money for tourism rather than raising the bed tax rate. “Just give $200,000 to the visitor’s bureau to market our city, rather than gathering that money that we don’t even know what to do with,” he said.