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Santa Barbara Council Gets Peek at Bleak 2011 Budget

Lower-than-expected revenues and increasing costs continue, with the city still facing a $2.6 million gap

Santa Barbara residents may have thought the city’s budget couldn’t get any worse — until Tuesday, when the city released its numbers for fiscal year 2011.

Monday kicked off the first day the public can review the 2011 budget, and a number of budget workshops are scheduled. During those meetings, individual departments will come forward with their budgets for review.

But the City Council and the public got a look Tuesday at what’s to come. The pattern of lower-than-expected revenues — such as sales and bed taxes — combined with increasing costs are a continuation of last year’s budget problems.

Santa Barbara has seen nearly a $5 million decline in operating revenues in just one year. Those gaps are mostly because of a drop in sales and bed taxes.

Even more prominent this year is the need for an agreement between city officials and the labor unions representing city employees. More than three-quarters of expenditures go to salaries and benefits for city workers, and about half of that funding — $54 million — is for fire and police.

In addition, revenues have dropped nearly $10 million since last year. The city has reduced its expenses about $7 million, but the gap between expenses and revenues is because “we’re not done,” said Robert Samario, the city’s interim finance director.

The 2011 budget isn’t balanced yet, and right now is facing a $2.6 million gap. Samario said that if the city doesn’t do anything, the budget gap would go up to $3.6 million because of salaries and benefits, based on current agreements with the city’s unions.

“If our revenues are flat, we’re still going to have a $3.6 million problem,” he said. “We never could have contemplated the declines we’ve seen in the last couple of years.”

If the city can’t reach an agreement on labor concessions, he said an even worse scenario could lay ahead.

A contingency plan would involve the elimination of 18 filled positions, including six from police, and further impacts on service.

Samario said the public may not notice dramatic effects as a result of the budget reductions, but that internal operations would be affected. He said the city is optimistic about closing the $2.6 million wage gap with unions.

Even if a contingency plan isn’t needed, the city would see a reduction in positions because of a decline in General Fund dollars.

The highest staffing numbers within the city occurred in 2009, when it employed 1,085 people. It’s been dropping since then, and Samario said 1,004 positions would remain in 2011, putting it at staffing levels not seen since 1999.

Most of the 41 positions to be eliminated in the proposed plan are already vacant — 11 of which are with police, five with Parks & Recreation and four with fire. Cutting those positions shaved off about $5.2 million from the city’s expenditures.

City help to outside organizations also would be affected, including to Santa Barbara Channels, which can expect a 33 percent funding cut if Tuesday’s budget is approved.

The workshop schedule is as follows, and will culminate in an adopted budget on June 29.

» Thurs., April 22, 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Council Chambers: Department budget presentations for mayor and council, CAO, administrative services, finance and nondepartmental

» Thurs., April 29, 9 a.m. to noon, Council Chambers: Department budget presentations for city attorney and public works

» Wed., May 5, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Council Chambers: Department budget presentations for community development/RDA and library

» Mon., May 10, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Council Chambers: Department budget presentation for Parks & Recreation

» Wed., May 12, 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Council Chambers: Department budget presentations for airport, waterfront and solid waste

» Thurs., May 13, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Council Chambers: Department budget presentation for police

» Thurs., May 27, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Council Chambers: Department budget presentation for fire

» Thurs., June 3, 9 a.m. to noon, Council Chambers: Finance Committee recommendations to council and budget deliberations

» Mon, June 14, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Council Chambers: Budget deliberations

» Tues, June 15, afternoon session, Council Chambers: Proposition 218 hearing on proposed increases to water, wastewater and solid waste rates

» Wed, June 16, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Council Chambers: Budget deliberations and final council budget direction to staff

» Tues, June 29, afternoon session, Council Chambers: Budget adoption

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

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