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Local News

Supervisor Adam Urges Board to Tackle Santa Barbara County’s Aging Infrastructure

Newcomer proposes spending $20 million annually to chip away at a $306 million maintenance backlog

In one of his biggest moves since taking office in January, Board of Supervisors newcomer Peter Adam on Tuesday forced the issue of Santa Barbara County’s extensive backlog of infrastructure maintenance.

After surveying department heads in Public Works, General Services and Parks, an estimated $306 million in maintenance needs to be done on the county’s roads, bridges and parks, said Adam, who represents the Fourth District.

His proposal, which brought forward a meaty discussion, involves chipping away at that amount over 15 years by paying $20 million annually.

County CEO Chandra Wallar would be asked to look at places to reduce costs in order to pay for the maintenance, according to his plan.

“This is an issue of priorities,” Adam said. “Do we want to begin the process of addressing these issues in a meaningful way?”

Two department heads spoke about the backlog and its effect on the county’s efforts.

“We do have a considerable backlog of maintenance,” said Herman Parker, director of community services for the county Parks Department, adding that not maintaining things like park parking lots present an “inherent risk” for the county.

Jim Laponis, interim director of General Services, also said his department has seen massive reductions in maintenance funding.

During public comment on the item, two women spoke about the conditions of Campbell Road, which they said badly needs to be repaved. The rural road west of Buellton sits in Adam’s district.

“It’s a disaster,” Joni Jamison said. “You can see where there’s been some sort of maintenance, but I think they chose one out of 20 potholes to fill.”

County staff said they would add the road to their list and assess what could be done about the potholes.

Most of the supervisors agreed that deferred maintenance was an issue, and even commended Adam for bringing it up.  How to get to a solution, and on what timeline, was where they differed.

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said that maintaining infrastructure has been a problem since the county’s founding 140 years ago.

“We didn’t even record our deferred maintenance until a few years ago,” he said.

“It is what it is today, and we’ve got to take some steps to fix this problem,” Adam responded.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said that residents in her district pay a fee of $25 a year that helps fund streetlights, maintenance, and a portion goes to parks.

“It is an allocation of money to keep [that area] looking good, and keeping it safe, and I think we should expect that in all of our parks,” she said.

Wolf said she didn’t think the county would be able to come up with $22 million in cuts before the budget talks begin.

The county owns 400 buildings, and it may be appropriate to sell off some excess properties for revenue, she said. She recommended that the county’s debt advisory committee study that idea.

Cuts of $20 million from most of the county’s support departments “would completely wipe them out,” Wallar said.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said roads are second only to public safety as a priority for him.

“We have to realize we have some major problems out there,” he said. “I think this started a conversation that’s been lacking for a number of years.”

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said she couldn’t see how the county could come up with the cuts before the budget process begins.

“You haven’t gone through a budget process yet, and it is really, really hard,” she told Adam, but added that she supported studying the problem.

“I’m the new kid ... but nobody grapples with these problems,” Adam said. “We’ve got this chronic problem with underfunding things.”

Adam said the county could explore was of creating revenue, and that every week projects are turned away by the board that could bring in cash to county coffers.

“We would like you to drill the oil well, we would like you to create the winery and the tasting room. They’re the revenue stream right here,” he said to applause.

The supervisors ultimately unanimously agreed to come back in June to hear from Wallar about how much a consultant would cost to look at how to fund the deferred maintenance.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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