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At $14 Million in the Hole, ADMHS Deficit the Low Point of County Budget Projections

ADMHS is likely to end the year with a $3.5 million gap, while most of the county's other departments expect to meet their budget goals

The Santa Barbara County Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services is $14 million in the hole, county budget director Tom Alvarez told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

About half of that total is related to reimbursement delays and will be resolved within months, Alvarez said, and $6.4 million is related to lower revenues and higher inpatient and salary and benefit costs. The department is still likely to end the year with a $3.5 million deficit, he said.

ADMHS is scheduled to make a full budget presentation to the Board of Supervisors on March 20.

The county is dealing with state reimbursement delays on a large scale, but most departments are expected to meet their budget goals by June, and the county’s General Fund should end the year in the black.

Alvarez said some of the $8.1 million in salary and benefit concessions needs to be set aside for the next two years, even though bed and sales tax revenues are on a “positive upswing.” Negotiated concessions will end in 2013-14, and increased costs for retirement plans will have a significant negative impact on the county’s bottom line.

“That’s just unacceptable,” board chairwoman Doreen Farr said of the ADMHS budget, noting that the positive variance for the General Fund would be wiped out by even the $3.5 million deficit.

The county Public Health Department is trending down as well. The department is transitioning to electronic medical records for its clinics, so reduced productivity has contributed to it being $1.7 million below budget, Alvarez said, adding that the county is seeing more competition for Medi-Cal clients in the North County.

County supervisors on Tuesday confirmed the need for a long-term strategy to keep departments funded and briefly discussed the need for a new county jail.

The county was awarded more than $56 million in 2008 through the first phase of the Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Services Act of 2007, or AB 900, but AB 900’s Phase II has nearly $603 million up for grabs.

Sheriff Bill Brown has applied for Phase II funds and should get a decision from the state this month on the planned 372-bed facility with a medical and mental health correctional treatment center. The project is estimated to cost $95.2 million, and the county must come up with matching capital construction funds and the $17 million annual operational costs.

The state realignment legislation has forced more non-violent offenders to serve time in the County Jail or be released on parole to the county probation centers, which has already proved a strain on the overcrowded system.

County CEO Chandra Waller said some convictions that would normally result in prison time are now eligible for jail time, and long-term inmates will have huge jail capacity and financial consequences.

Waller and Supervisor Joni Gray brought up the case of Jose Aceves, a man sentenced this week to 23 years for possession of methamphetamine for sale. It was his sixth conviction for possession of drugs for sales or transportation, according to the District Attorney’s Office, and he will be serving it in the County Jail instead of state prison because of realignment.

County jails are meant to hold pre-trial inmates and convicted criminals who have been sentenced to one year or less.

“It changes the whole complexion of the way the jail system works,” Gray said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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