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Local News

County Focused on Protecting Public Safety as Budget Talks Continue

But all departments are under scrutiny as the Board of Supervisors looks for ways to save

Santa Barbara County’s budget hearings continued Tuesday, with consensus among the Board of Supervisors centered on public safety funding — particularly for the sheriff’s and fire departments and the District Attorney’s Office — and that it remain a priority among many other expenditures that may have to be cut.

“Let’s not forget that this is not June, when we are going to have to make the hard decisions. Things are still in flux with state and federal dollars,” said First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, pointing out that the county’s Board of Supervisors and its Executive Office were still in an advisory mode. “We don’t even have a full budget before us, just some general ideas.”

But even the public safety departments came under scrutiny as the supervisors looked for ways to trim the county’s nearly $40 million budget gap.

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr suggested grounding two of the sheriff’s helicopters until better economic times return. Another discussion on the table centered on reducing the number of paramedics on fire crews, since ambulance crews are already staffed with trained paramedics.

Most departments’ budgetary items — from Social Services to Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services — contained a mixture of thumbs-up and -down from various supervisors, although in the format given at the hearing, which programs were recommended for cuts.

The Department of Housing and Community Development is likely to suffer cuts, as most supervisors supported reductions in that department, and Wolf said money also could be saved by merging the county’s IT Department — which faces $3.5 million in cuts — with the General Services Department.

“It’s pretty darn hard to follow what you’re doing,” said Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Agriculture, Labor & Business and a regular at county budget hearings, complaining that supervisors were weaving through the budget morass using notes not accessible to the public.

The process is far from over. The board directed county CEO Mike Brown and his staff to sift through the board’s recommendations, looking to streamline departments and making appropriate cuts, while keeping public safety a priority.

“You’re going to have to do your best, Mr. Brown,” Carbajal said grimly.

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

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