Tuesday, July 17 , 2018, 9:30 am | Overcast 66º


Local News

County Continues Budget Review But Delays Recommending Cuts

Facing a $40 million shortfall, supervisors say they need more time to evaluate department reports

In a hearing lasting nearly seven hours Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors heard from department officials who didn’t have the opportunity to present budget reports at last week’s lengthy session.

The reports from the remaining department heads — including Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services and the General Services Department — were no less dismal than those delivered by public safety officials a week ago, but after some discussion with County Executive Officer Mike Brown, the supervisors decided to table the budget until March 16.

Facing a $40 million shortfall, the supervisors were in agreement that major budget cuts need to be made, but they were unable to come to a consensus on priorities to recommend to the County Executive Office.

“I can cherry-pick a few things, but it doesn’t feel strategic,” First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said.

Board chairwoman and Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said she plans to sit down with Brown to set up a forum allowing all of the supervisors to review each department’s budget individually.

“A lot of people were waiting with baited breath [for our cuts], but it’s better to wait than to make bad recommendations to the County Executive Office,” she said. “We started to go through it department by department, but it became apparent that some of the board members needed more time to look at it.”

A few ideas about how to cut expenditures and raise revenue were discussed Tuesday by the supervisors, including adding parking fees at Goleta Beach and Arroyo Burro Beach, two coastal parks known for free parking.

Carbajal questioned the necessity of having a public information officer for the county, a position he said had been performed by the supervisors’ staff members in years past. Although his position costs the county $230,000 per year, public information officer William Boyer told the board Tuesday that much of that amount goes toward advertising, public service announcements and office supplies.

Even the County Executive Office is feeling the squeeze. Brown said negotiations with the city of Goleta over its revenue neutrality agreement with the county are again heating up. Goleta officials have indicated that the issue needs to be resolved before they can move forward with their plan to detach from the Goleta West Sanitary District.

By far taking the most time in Tuesday’s hearing — about two hours — was a presentation given by Ann Dietrich, director of Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services.

“The big problem we’ve had in an ongoing way is serving people who are indigent,” said Dietrich, estimating that her department spends $3 million to $5 million annually on patients who are neither covered by MediCal nor can afford to pay for services. “It’s a very big draw on our system to continue to serve this volume of indigent people.”

ADMHS faces a $6.6 million budget gap.

Dietrich said ADMHS’s mandate calls for the department to care for MediCal recipients as well as crisis cases, but that the number of crisis cases coming from people who are homeless or unable to pay has gotten high.

Wolf said caring for mentally ill homeless people is the county’s responsibility, while one public commenter said mental health care needs to be raised to the level of public safety. “Mental health problems and drug and alcohol problems are powering public safety problems,” he said.

Highlighting a current backlog of deferred building maintenance, General Services Director Bob Nisbet said cuts will lead to more deferred maintenance and ultimately, higher operations and maintenance costs for the county.

“For those who drive automobiles, you know that if you don’t change the oil, it costs more later. It’s the same concept with buildings,” he said, explaining that 60 percent of his department’s cuts would be directed at building maintenance. General Services cares for 720 buildings throughout the county.

The only agency that reported being “on target” with its budget was the county’s IT Department, but during a drawn-out session of questioning from supervisors, the department’s chief information officer, Sally Nagy, was unable to justify the figures she presented to the board.

“She basically said she couldn’t explain it,” Wolf said.

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

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