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).

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 Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

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 >