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Wednesday, December 12 , 2018, 2:13 am | Fair 45º


Santa Barbara Officials Tackle $3 Million Budget Shortfall

Council members and city administrators will continue talks Tuesday on how best to address the funding gap

When the Santa Barbara City Council approved the 2010 budget in June, it already knew there would be a significant shortfall. On Thursday, the council and city staff tackled how best to address that $3 million gap in a budget workshop that will continue this week.

Lower-than-estimated bed taxes, city sales taxes and property taxes and the volatility of the state’s budget have left the city needing to re-evaluate its financial situation, which is in worse shape than it was just a few months ago.

The Transient Occupancy Tax, or “bed tax” garnered from local hotels, showed 11 straight months of decline, from September 2008 to July 2009. When the recession hit six to eight months ago, coastal communities were doing better than inland communities, City Manager Jim Armstrong said, as he and City Finance Director Bob Sumario walked the council through the budget situation and the recommended changes.

“Now I’m hearing these 20-percent type declines pretty universally,” he said, especially with bed taxes, and communities with a higher concentrations of luxury hotels have been hit harder.

Since the fiscal year began, Armstrong said, he’s been meeting with finance staff and city department heads, trying to tackle the budget issue.

A few months ago, the city entered into agreements with SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, and is trying to avoid layoffs, he said, while removing vacant positions where there haven’t been a noticeable deterioration of services.

“I think we all felt, at this point, it might be bad faith to turn around and lay off people,” he said. “I’m not giving you any promises that if things were to deteriorate more that we might not be back in the springtime.”

In addition to ongoing measures that would be used to help with the city’s situation, Armstrong walked through each department’s possible cuts:

» City Administrator’s Office: Reducing hourly support for special City TV programming will amount to about $7,000 in savings. Another strategy being explored is having employee relations manager Kristy Schmidt work part time with the Solid Waste Department.

» Community Development: Assigning a part-time planner to work on creeks projects for six months would save about $48,920. In addition, suspending board and commission stipends would save $38,028, and holding an administrative position vacant would save $66,674.

» Finance Department: Leaving a position finance director position vacant and reallocating costs to the city’s solid waste fund would save $105,064. Moving a utility services supervisor to the water fund would save $6,423, and reducing miscellaneous line items would save $6,257.

» Library: Holding three positions vacant would save $159,677, and imposing a 50-cent fee on juvenile material holds would save $7,318.

» Parks and Recreation: Holding four positions vacant would save $247,062, and delaying recreation equipment replacement would salvage $26,700.

» Police: Nine officers were unable to get into a training camp in Ventura after it was canceled, and the subsequent delay in training has resulted in salary savings. Five of those officers will be able to attend training in January. Turning two administrative positions into civilian jobs also is under discussion and could save as much as $170,000.

» Public Works: Leaving an engineering and a survey technician position vacant would save nearly $176,000. Reducing special projects and vector control would result in $120,485 in savings. Holding two custodial positions vacant would save $90,000.

The next budget workshop will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday.

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

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