No matter how you sliced it, last month’s UCSB Economic Forecast Project seminar cautioned residents to brace for a long haul of economic hardship. In releasing proposed budget cuts this week, the Santa Barbara County Executive Office made similarly bleak predictions regarding the widening gap between revenues and expenditures, noting that the full effects of the post-2008 economic downturn haven’t been fully felt by county agencies.
The county has tapped its rapidly depleting reserve fund during the past couple of years, and other devices — such as fund balances and redirects, as well as furloughs and staff concessions — also have been deployed to help soften the blow caused by sharp decreases in fee and tax revenues.
Facing a $20 million budget gap, the county’s five-year projection includes an eventual increase in the discrepancy to more than $60 million by fiscal year 2013-14. While most departments have been instructed to cut about 10 percent from their operating budgets, the County Executive Office and the Board of Supervisors have been adamant that public safety areas such as the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the Probation Department receive less severe cuts.
Some General Fund revenues were redirected to those departments, and the county Fire Department, which relies more heavily on money from dedicated property taxes and a Proposition 172 sales tax, had an easier time avoiding the proverbial trimming shears than did other departments.
“New paradigms are required to adjust to the economic reality constraining the current method of operating,” CEO Mike Brown said in the report, calling for a massive restructuring of the county’s service model in order to balance future budgets. Noting that California as a whole faces a $42 billion budget deficit because of decreased revenues and an increasing demand for public services, Brown targeted a number of key expenses that he said were the cause of Santa Barbara County’s fiscal woes.
In addition to declining revenues from slow economic recovery, the report cited a projected need to continue funding double-digit increases to the county’s retirement fund, 3 percent annual employee wage increases, increased payments to social services departments, and the county’s need to build and staff a new jail as the major reasons for the continually widening gap.
While the CEO’s report suggests impending carnage, the really tough number-wrangling has not yet begun in earnest. The data presented doesn’t seem as hopeless as those calculated during a recent budget workshop, and the Board of Supervisors has yet to weigh in.
Furthermore, despite the hanging threat of layoffs, several employee labor unions have been hashing out deals so that everyone can get by with less.
In all, Brown’s department recommended more than $16 million in cuts, eliminating nearly 140 staff positions.
The following is a list of the proposed budget reductions and number of personnel cuts for each department.
» County Executive Office: $351,000; 2
» County Counsel: $892,000; 6.45
» Court Special Services: $45,000; 0
» District Attorney: $1.3 million; 9.5
» Fire: $342,000; 0
» Probation: $4.5 million; 35
» Sheriff: $1.98 million; 15.5
» Alcohol, Drug, & Mental Health: $10.4 million; 7
» Public Health: $1.4 million; 15.2
» Social Services: $2.2 million; 0
» Agriculture & Cooperative Extension: $178,000; 1.4
» Housing & Community Development: $72,000; 0
» Parks: $606,000; 2
» Planning & Development: $3.4 million; 25
» Public Works: $354,000; 2.4
» Auditor-Controller: $632,000; 2
» Clerk-Recorder: $360,000; 3.8
» General Service: $1.97 million; 6
» Human Resources: $248,000; 2.3
» Information Technology: $125,000; 1
» Treasurer-Tax Collector: $122,000; 2
» General County Programs: $223,000; 0
» Total cuts: $16.17 million; 139