Sunday, June 24 , 2018, 12:34 am | Overcast 64º


Local News

City Council Counting on Labor Concessions to Brighten Budget Outlook

The cost savings are factored into an amended list of priorities approved Monday

As the Santa Barbara City Council gave some last direction to city staff on Monday about next year’s adopted budget, the cuts were bleak but there was hope for some relief if labor concessions come through.

That big if — which is far from reality, as only the Police Officers Association is contractually required to come to the negotiating table at this time — is whether the city will get any concessions and if they’ll come soon enough to matter for next year.

Finance Director Bob Samario said Monday that 78 percent of the city’s costs are in salaries and benefits.

Council members operated under the assumption that the predicted concessions — 6 percent to 8 percent for each employee group — would come through, and that some programs and positions could escape the chopping block.

All departments are facing employee and program cuts for next year, though the severity differs for each one. Business-type funds — the solid waste, airport, parking and waterfront departments – have fared decently so far since they have the ability to adjust fines and fees to compensate for spending needs.

The real crisis centers on the general fund, which includes administration, public safety, community development, public works, parks and recreation, and the library.

The City Council’s “wish list,” which amounts to more than $4 million in restorations, prioritized public safety, with hopes for adding back police officers and a training fire captain. While the police department is authorized to have 140 sworn employees, it currently has 135 — only 121 of which are functional (many are injured or deployed overseas), according to Deputy Police Chief Frank Mannix.

The council’s other priorities included keeping the sobering center open, and funding the New Beginnings Counseling Center and Ortega Park’s recreational swimming pool.

Councilman Frank Hotchkiss listens to the public speak out about budget priorities Monday
Councilman Frank Hotchkiss listens to the public speak out about budget priorities Monday. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Pushing aside some reservations of counting chickens before they hatch, the council voted unanimously to approve the amended list of priorities that spends the cost savings from labor concessions. The staff has the understanding that the recovered items can’t be realized until concessions come through, but the priorities are clear. 

Many people spoke in favor of restoring funding to The Santa Barbara Channels, which was set to be cut 33 percent, and the council included a $50,000 bump to the public access TV station in its amended priority list. Also added were stipends for the Planning Commission, money to keep park restrooms open and maintained, and $50,000 to the library department for collections, as staff preferred that over keeping downtown branches open on Mondays.

Big cuts still facing residents next year include staffing and program reductions across the board.

Concessions are mostly one-time fixes — and there are millions in scheduled increases for the next two years — and budgetary reserves are only 10 percent of what they’re supposed to be.

Some noticeable service cuts include closing the Central and Eastside libraries on Mondays and cutting private property graffiti abatement (the city still will take care of it in the public right-of-way), and there will be increased fees for certain services.

City Administrator Jim Armstrong said the staff will come back to the council on June 29 with a strategy that doesn’t commit spending until further along in negotiations.

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

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