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Friday, February 22 , 2019, 3:57 am | Fair 46º


Santa Barbara County Facing More Tough Budget Decisions

The supervisors consider whether to borrow or cut their way to making up a $16 million deficit

Seeing a budget that is not a pretty picture, Santa Barbara County is facing additional cuts of at least $16 million in light of California’s $60 billion budget deficit.

The news Tuesday stunned county supervisors, who realized that a lack of options leaves them with one question: borrow, or make further cuts?

Impending budget issues include millions of dollars in Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services liabilities, decreases in sales and property tax revenues, and an increase in retirement and health premium costs.

For the 2009-10 fiscal year alone, the $16 million in cuts includes $13 million from the General Fund, $2 million from the county Fire Department and $1 million from various special districts.

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal on Tuesday said he couldn’t believe that the cuts were for just a single fiscal year, and other board members also seemed shocked at the hole in which the county is stuck.

Salary and benefit costs have increased, leading to the cuts of 129 full-time employees from various departments, including social services, the Sheriff’s Department, public works, probation and more. Furloughs have been widely implemented, as have tax and revenue anticipation notes.

The supervisors moved to approve pursuing state finance securitization, which reinstates cash flow — and the state foots the bill for all cash. States can take local government money only twice every 10 years, and have to pay it back before borrowing again.

“(California’s) credit is so bad, they’re using us to front the loan for them,” county Executive Officer Michael Brown said of Sacramento “borrowing” from local governments.

California is $200 billion in debt. As a comparison, the national debt after World War II was $296 billion, said Jason Stilwell, assistant county executive officer.

Brown said Santa Barbara County is also taking more cuts now in order to come in lower when it mitigates cuts for the next fiscal year, when the state is still expected to be recovering from the recession.

Final legislation for the program has not been passed, so the board Tuesday requested an analysis of borrowing options, as well as a furlough analysis, by the time the issue is continued at its Sept. 15 meeting.

Other solution strategies include early retirement incentives, a move SEIU labor union members in attendance had advocated, and reducing expenditures as much as possible.

Sheriff’s Department personnel attended Tuesday’s meeting to hear about pending cuts. The department has seen its budget reduced by $4 million over the past two years, including funds for 30 positions and 17 percent of its management staff.

Those cuts were made without layoffs, however; jobs were salvaged through reorganization and timely requirements, because the department anticipated the reductions and was able to react in time, Undersheriff Ken Shemwell and Chief Deputy Jim Peterson said.

Shemwell was included in the staff reduction — he retired and returned to duty part time, which saved the department $187,000, according to information presented Tuesday.

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

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