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Local News

City Redevelopment Agency Budgeted $6.8 Million for State Raid

The loss means Santa Barbara won't be able to fund community grants

The city of Santa Barbara Redevelopment Agency has set millions of dollars aside in anticipation of another state raid, as a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruled that California was within its rights to take $1.7 billion in funds from redevelopment agencies.

The state depended on $1.7 billion in the current fiscal year and expects to take $350 million next year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Santa Barbara set aside $6.8 million and has budgeted for “future raids,” Brian Bosse, housing and redevelopment director, said at Wednesday’s budget workshop.

Basically, the state is obligated to fund school districts but can’t do so with the budget deficit — so redevelopment funds have been taken from local jurisdictions to meet that obligation, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said.

The California Redevelopment Association intends to appeal the ruling, but the payment due date of May 10 is quickly approaching.

With the funds going to the state, the city won’t be able to fund community grants, Bosse said.

RDA funds come from property taxes, and its tax increments for fiscal year 2011 will show a decrease for the first time since the early 1990s. Despite revenue troubles, the agency’s housing, community development block grant and capital programs have many projects in the works or funded to get under way, including four affordable housing projects.

The Community Development Department staff presented budget strategies including increased planning fees, reduced and vacated positions, and suspending the sign committee. Staffing is now at 60 employees, down from 72 in 2009, which represents pre-1997 levels. The complaints keep coming in, and community development director Paul Casey said he worries about staff stress levels and the cuts to training.

Staff and the City Council discussed privatizing certain planning procedures such as environmental reviews and making zoning information reports voluntary for condominiums.

Priorities for the department include adopting Plan Santa Barbara, getting through Tea Fire applications and working on big planning projects in the pipeline — including the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital work force housing project, the El Encanto Hotel renovation, La Entrada and the St. Francis Medical Center project.

Finishing the city’s general plan update is “paramount,” Casey said. “It’s time to narrow it down and make key decisions.”

The library department presented its budget solutions as well, though much of the system’s funds come from Santa Barbara County, not the general fund.

The Central and Eastside libraries are general fund branches and also house most of the system’s administrative staff. An in-library and online questionnaire of patrons identified the most important services as having up-to-date collections, holds and reserves — basically, more books and access to the books.

Director Irene Macias spoke of the library system’s efforts to restructure and create a more sustainable staffing structure, but there will be service cuts as a result of budget cuts.

The Central and Eastside branches have proposed closing on Mondays, as have other branches. However, specifically earmarked donations will allow the Montecito branch to reopen on Mondays.

Macias and other staff members also thanked Friends of the Library and members of the community that donate time and books, as about half of the library system’s books are donated.

The next budget workshop will be from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St., where the airport, waterfront and solid waste departments will present their budget strategies.

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

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