The Goleta City Council wants to educate residents about the city's revenue neutrality agreement with the county, but it won’t fund a $25,000 contract with a public relations firm to do it.
When Goleta incorporated in 2002, cityhood advocates agreed to give Santa Barbara County a portion of city revenues to offset the financial impacts of incorporation. Some of the provisions expired after 10 years, but the county gets 30 percent of sales tax revenues and half of property tax revenues every year — forever. The city has paid $87 million to the county under this agreement so far.
Council members have been torn about funding a full-blown outreach campaign given the timing and doubts that it would be effective. They did fund a public opinion survey, which mostly confirmed their guesses: Most people aren’t very knowledgeable about the RNA, but once they’re informed, they said it was unfair and payments needed to phase out or just end outright.
At a January meeting, the City Council voted to wait for survey results before funding any kind of outreach campaign.
There is a community coalition forming, which is being driven partly by Councilman Jim Farr’s efforts.
Private citizens can do — and say — what city staff can’t, which could help get the message out.
“For me, the RNA has become not an obsession, but certainly a focal point of my attempts to approve the welfare, if you will, of Goleta,” Farr said at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Despite his fervor, he didn’t support funding a public relations campaign. He argued that it’s a fight for Goleta’s residents, and the city doesn’t need to spend money on an outside firm.
“This battle will be won door to door, neighbor to neighbor,” he said.
Mayor Michael Bennett said it’s the worst agreement in the state since it lasts forever.
It doesn’t compare to any other RNA in existence, he said, and there are 14 with which to compare with. If it was a fair contract, he said, the city wouldn’t keep having this discussion.
He said he supported the community coalition idea, but added that the city never intended to bring this up during an election season. The council asked to negotiate with the county at the end of last summer but couldn’t sit down to the table until October.
“That’s a sad commentary: We can’t do any business because of upcoming elections,” Bennett said, adding that he doesn’t buy it, saying it’s appropriate and proper for city staff to do apolitical educational outreach.
Only Councilwoman Paula Perotte disagreed, saying the timing was too political. She’s heard negative feedback about the survey and outreach since people are concerned the outreach could impact the Second District county supervisor race. Incumbent Janet Wolf is being challenged by Goleta Councilman Roger Aceves, so the issue of revenue neutrality inevitably will be coming up during the campaigns.
Perotte argued that there is no reason to risk impacting the county election, even unintentionally, and that the survey information will be just as useful in a few months.
The few people who spoke at public comment agreed, including former mayor Margaret Connell. She said the informational campaign should only have accurate facts and start after the June election so there’s no bias to the conversation.
Soon after Goleta first discussed launching an educational campaign, Santa Barbara County posted a revenue neutrality agreement information page on its website’s main page. It explains the countywide services that are available to Goleta residents, and says the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) would not have allowed incorporation without a revenue neutrality agreement. It can only be changed by mutual agreement, which hasn’t happened, or perhaps if Goleta was willing to take on Isla Vista, described as a “high density and more cost-intensive” area, according to the county.
The RNA doesn’t limit how any funds are used by the county, and there is no documentation to show that the money is used to provide services for Goleta, City Attorney Tim Giles said. All other cities within the county that don’t have an agreement get the same services that Goleta does, he noted. Those are services such as fire, courts and jails, public health and social services.
Goleta contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for police services, but pays separately for those services with a price tag of $7.4 million for the current fiscal year.
It’s probably fair to say that some of that RNA revenue is going to things that benefit Goleta and other areas, not exclusively Goleta, Giles said.
While the county has an “enormous budget” of $850 million, Goleta’s is “miniscule” by comparison at $22 million, Farr said. He argued that the county could easily cut the $5 million per year given under the revenue neutrality agreement.
Goleta has paid about $80 million in its first 10 years under this agreement; Giles said the people of Goleta probably have ideas about what to do with the next $80 million.
When he said the city would be willing to sit down with the county anytime, if they called, he glanced down at his phone and saw that First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal was calling.
“Is that a joke?” he said.
He called back after the meeting, but only got voicemail, he told Noozhawk. Farr wasn’t sure if Carbajal was watching Goleta’s meeting, since the Board of Supervisors also meet on Tuesdays, or if it was a timely coincidence.
“My guess is he thought it would be amusing,” Farr said.