In a major achievement for Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam, voters will be seeing a ballot measure authored by him in June, asking them to approve an item that would hold Santa Barbara County accountable for keeping roads and county facilities at least at the status quo in terms of maintenance.
The county Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday in favor of putting the item before voters in the election, but the three South County supervisors seemed to vote in favor "only because we have no other choice," said Doreen Farr, Third District supervisor.
Adam's office gathered more than 15,000 signatures in support of putting the item on the ballot, which moved the item forward outside of the decision of the supervisors.
The ordinance, which has become a signature issue for Adam during the short time he's been in office, seeks to address a huge backlog in Santa Barbara County's infrastructure needs, which has been estimated at $306 million in projects on the county’s roads, bridges and parks.
The ordinance requires the board to maintain all county facilities used by the public in a condition that is the same as or better than the condition they are in when the ordinance is passed. If the board decides to use debt to accomplish that, the ordinance states it would have to be approved by voters.
Maintaining infrastructure even in its current state would come at no small cost, as supervisors found out Tuesday during a presentation from staff with the county Public Works Department.
Currently the county invests $6 million in upkeep annually for parks and maintenance, and $24 total is needed. That leaves an $18 million gap, staff said.
But those are preliminary numbers — the full report on the cost to maintain county buildings and parks will be out later — and could be as much as $8 million more.
The ballot measure has had vocal criticism from First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, who raised concerns Tuesday about taking money from other departments, such as public safety, construction of a new jail and public health departments.
"We will have challenges raising the money to operate our jail," he said. "Anybody that supports it just needs to know it could mean less cops, less firefighters.
"As long as we articulate that, I think it's a good thing. … We should not sugarcoat it."
Adam said the ordinance "identifies the goal but doesn't give you the means."
Public Works Director Scott McGolpin said that as the roads age and aren't maintained, they get exponentially more expensive to repair.
Matt Pontus of the General Services Department said the report on the county parks and facilities will be out in the spring and will look at the total cost to maintain the county's 500 facilities, including fire stations, jails, mental health facilities, parking lots and more.
The county could unload county facilities to save money or take on debt to fund the measure as well.
"It's going to be a long slog to figure out where the money's going to come from," Adam said. "But I think we can."
Carbajal called the measure "laudable but misguided."
"I'm going to dub this the anti-public safety net issue because that's exactly what's at stake here," he said, adding that he and Farr would author the ballot language against the measure.