Archive » June 21, 2012
Supes adopt budget, CEO calls for lasting solutions
By Jeremy Foster, Staff Writer
Despite a call from the county’s Chief Executive Officer to find long-term solutions to the county’s budget woes, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors patched a $15 million budget deficit through one-time fixes.
On June 15, the board balanced its $828 million fiscal year 2012-13 budget, mostly through the use of reserve funds and money acquired through the dissolution of the redevelopment agencies. In doing so, the board restored $6 million in funding to save 18 programs from the budgetary ax.
Four programs were made into permanent line-item budget allotments. They include $1.2 million for the Human Services Commission; $179,000 to staff a Santa Barbara and Lompoc office for Veterans Services Program; $176,000 for the ProPay program, which assists 300 residents whose mental illness makes it difficult for them to handle their finances; and $170,000 for the District Attorney’s truancy program.
The board also scraped up $195,000 for the Conference and Visitors Bureau and Film Commission; $161,000 for two sheriff’s custody deputies; $216,000 for contracted acute inpatient psychiatric beds; $179,000 for Veterans’ Services; $145,000 for two plumbers; $1 million for completion of the Isla Vista El Embarcadero project; $94,000 for a water and sewage plant operator at Lake Cachuma; $70,000 for a mechanic at Lake Cachuma; $88,000 for an agricultural biologist; $50,000 for a support position for the Clerk of the Board; and $45,000 for emergency shelter services.
The supervisors supported allocating $1.8 million to keep the Fire Department’s Engine 11 open in Goleta and $468,000 for fire personnel at Station 22 in Orcutt. But this would require wage concessions. Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said she wouldn’t negotiate from the dais, but stated that “Whatever happens, we’ve all stated we are concerned about losing Fire Station 11 and the one in Orcutt. I want to make sure this comes back to the board before there’s any elimination.”
“I’m counting on the men and women in our fire department, as they have done in the past, to continue to lead by example,” added 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino. “I’d like to see those restorations filled through concessions to offset the service-level impacts.”
Not escaping the budget were a myriad of programs, including the Sheriff Department’s gang team, two park ranger positions that would have kept the Guadalupe Dunes park open seven days a week, a livestock and rangeland adviser, a grading inspection officer, and several positions in the Long Range Planning Department. Other cuts will reduce landscaping and maintenance services at county buildings and the hours in the Santa Maria election office and the Lompoc County Clerk’s office, as well as the elimination of one emergency operations manager.
Most programs were restored following appeals from residents who considered many programs on the chopping block indispensible. CEO Chandra Wallar acknowledged that the cuts will “negatively impact the quality and quantity of services the county provides to its residents. The county staff finds this distressing. We understand these translate into ‘real people’ impacts.”
She said that in future years, funding for restored programs will most likely come from the general fund and that the county will “continue to experience ongoing and unparalleled challenges, and there are many difficult years ahead.” “The budget reduces to mandated levels many core county services and significantly reduces or eliminates noncore discretionary services,” she added. “We must weather the current storm and chart a strategic course that allows the county, to the extent possible, to be prepared for future challenges.”
She also warned that though county employees have agreed to $15 million in concessions for next year, the salaries and benefits for public safety employees are unsustainable. Public safety now accounts for 50% of general fund expenditures, up from 34% in the 2002-03 fiscal year.
And next year, she added, pensions are expected to increase to $122.9 million, three times the amount in the 2003-04 fiscal year. But she warned that the problem will only get worse unless the board negotiates more concessions from public safety unions by reducing or eliminating previously negotiated salary increases and including them in a less costly retirement tier.
Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, taking the cue from several North County leaders during earlier budget hearings, requested funding for a county economic development coordinator to build revenues sources. But her plea for $120,000 to pay for the position was unsuccessful.
“We heard from the community and mayors how important that is,” Farr said. “We need a dedicated person, so we can grow this economy so we don’t have these extremely tough decisions at the end.”
Lavagnino also emphasized the need to find more revenue to avoid continuous budgetary problems. He suggested the county consider beach parking fees, look at increasing its hotel-motel bed tax and cutting the Children’s Healthcare Initiative.