Santa Barbara’s budget workshops continued last week as the City Council took a look Thursday at the city Public Works Department and its upcoming finances.
After hearing each department present its proposed budget for the upcoming year, city officials aim to approve a budget by June 21. Click here for a PDF of the council’s budget workshops schedule.
Public works director Christine Andersen provided an overview of her department, which has 289.5 full-time positions in the proposed budget, including 14 managers and 32 supervisors. The department’s total budget is $98.5 million, with about a third going to salaries and benefits for employees.
The department has reduced one full-time position since the last budget cycle, which was accomplished by shuffling and consolidating several vacant positions. Since 2009, the department has eliminated only 10 positions.
“Clearly, public works has not seen the reductions that many of the General Fund programs have,” Andersen said.
The cuts, and the program’s expensive capital projects, have had an effect. Some of the impacts are longer response times to infrastructure maintenance, increased backlogs and reduced training for staff.
Streetlight maintenance has been deferred and overall building maintenance backlog is growing, she said. Extending vehicle replacement cycles is another strategy the department will continue.
There’s been a reduction in citations issued for street sweeping as well, and as fuel costs increase, that operation will become more expensive, Andersen said. The program is just about to zero out its reserves, and may have to reduce service levels, she said.
The Public Works Department also manages the city’s fleet of vehicles along with the maintenance of city buildings. Fleet management alone has a budget of $2.8 million with $1.3 million allocated to salaries and benefits. The facilities department, which handles maintenance and energy management, has a budget of $5.2 million, of which $3.1 million goes to salaries and benefits.
Andersen said the downtown parking fund remains relatively healthy, in spite of some lot closures.
The water fund has a budget of $42 million, and salaries only make up about $8 million, “because it is so capital intensive,” she said.
Plans for a 3.5 percent rate increase will be discussed at a Proposition 218 hearing in June. Approved by voters in 1996, Prop. 218 requires local governments to seek taxpayer approval for proposed new or increased assessments. Decreased water sales and significant ongoing capital work have created the need for the rate increases, officials said.
The water department is also still suffering from the impacts of the 2007 Zaca Fire, which did significant damage to the city’s water sources, and will cost the city about $2 million this year in increased costs to treat.
One bright spot was the wastewater department, which has seen a $120,000 salary savings while doing more contract work. But the department recently came under fire when a local environmental group initiated a lawsuit over sewer system spills. Andersen said the city has budgeted $200,000 to deal with that litigation.
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.