Thursday, May 24 , 2018, 8:39 pm | Overcast 58º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Department Officials Deliver Reality Check on County’s Budget Woes

The Board of Supervisors hears how a $40 million shortfall would affect staffing and services

Santa Barbara County’s financial pain became acutely evident at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, where officials from the public safety and health sectors, as well as the assessor’s office spelled out the extent of their dire straits.

The county faces a budget shortfall of nearly $40 million, and the fiscal carnage that seems imminent isn’t confined to any specific department. All who testified Tuesday before the board, from Sheriff Bill Brown to Deputy District Attorney Gordon Auchincloss, told of critical staff reductions connected to the impending belt-tightening.

“I would liken you to a trauma team engaged in a mass-casualty incident,” said Brown, whose department faces a potential $12 million gap. “Instead of being engaged in trauma triage, you’ll be engaged in fiscal triage.”

He warned that a $12 million cut to the Sheriff’s Department would lead to 102 layoffs — or about 15 percent of its staff, including many sworn deputies. That would have “devastating impacts on public safety. Such cuts would eviscerate our agency,” he said, noting that it takes about a year of time and $100,000 to train a sworn deputy.

Of the options offered by Brown, the first included a $3 million cut and the end of the department’s Community Services Bureau, closure of the North County Jail in Santa Maria and dissolution of the Gang Enforcement unit.

During the public comment period, a graduate of the Los Prietos Boys Camp pleaded with the board not to cut the program.

“If it wasn’t for the boys camp, I wouldn’t be here today. I’d be in prison,” Haciel Cervantes said. “Right now, I’m enrolled in college.”

Looking at a potential $6.8 million budget gap, fire protection services would fare no better.

County Fire Chief Michael Dyer said the cuts would mean a 70 percent reduction in crew hours, affecting everything from medical response to preventive brush clearing and debris removal. Wildfire response, he said, would fall behind without preventive maintenance.

“Without a coordinated attack, those fires don’t go out, and those crews will be on those fires much longer,” he said.

A visibly upset Auchincloss said staff reductions at the District Attorney’s Office have already led to a case load of more than 470 cases per attorney — the highest rate among California counties that report such statistics — at a time when gang crimes have increased markedly.

“These gang and murder cases are a black hole for our office. They soak up our time and resources,” he said, adding that expert witness and investigation fees in such cases double and often triple the cost of running a successful prosecution.

In a hearing that lasted more than six hours, the supervisors couldn’t hear testimony from all of the departments, so no action was taken by the board.

The hearing was continued until next Tuesday, when nearly a dozen agencies are expected to present their cases.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Supporter

Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >