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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 7:29 pm | Fair 60º


Police and Fire Departments Lay Out Finances as Santa Barbara Develops 2018 Budget

Public safety was on deck Wednesday as the Santa Barbara City Council continued to hammer out its 2018 budget, with Police Department and Fire Department officials laying out their finances and operational changes.

The city’s $351 million recommended budget consists of $318 million in operating expenses and $33 million in capital work.

The city’s biggest pot of money is its General Fund, which covers 37 percent of the budget, and is fed mostly by taxes, the largest of which is property tax.

Just over half the General Fund goes to police and fire services.

Wednesday marked the third of eight hearings City Hall is holding before the 2018 fiscal year begins on July 1.

The Fire Department, which operates eight stations and has the equivalent of 105 full-time employees, is looking at $26.7 million of expenditures for 2018-19, the vast majority of which are covered by the General Fund. That’s a $760,000 decrease over this year’s projected expenditures.

Chief Pat McElroy explained that departmental cuts are due to delays to implementing a fire station alerting system, a firefighter academy and the creation of a public education coordinator position. A capital improvement project for Fire Station 7 also has been suspended.

Meanwhile, the department’s revenues from fees, reimbursements and the sales tax are projected to drop from $4.9 million to $3.8 million.

Fire Department fees, typically levied for various inspections, will be raised 3 percent to cover cost increases.

Changes to those inspections will include eliminating the very brief examinations fire officials do for very small occupancies in buildings that already receive overall inspections, but still require their own fee.

Police Chief Lori Luhnow described shake-ups to her department’s organizational chart, including a newly minted neighborhood policing unit headed by Lt. Dan McGrew.

She said the new set-up will allow the department “in-depth analysis and (the) ability to tackle our citywide problems very systematically and very collaboratively with all stakeholders.”

The staffing shortages the department has recently faced have been remedied, Luhnow reported.

“We are not in crisis as we were a year ago,” she told the City Council.

In the coming months, 12 new officers will join the force, with more in various stages of training and recruitment.

Like the Fire Department, the department’s expenses are covered primarily by General Fund money.

Fiscal year 2018-19 expenditures are currently budgeted at $42 million — $2.5 million more than what’s projected for this fiscal year.

And like the Fire Department, the department is projecting revenues from taxes, fees, fines, reimbursements and service charges to come in a little lower for the coming year.

City finance staff have called a backlog of unfunded infrastructure maintenance “the biggest financial challenge facing the community,” and a big part of that is the need for a new police station.

The current 28,000-square-foot building at 215 E. Figueroa St. was built in 1959 when the department had half as many personnel as it does today. The building does not meet modern seismic and accessibility standards, has outdated plumbing and electrical systems, and faces serious space constraints.

A few Police Department functions, such as its 9-1-1 call center, are housed in other locations. Many department divisions’ work spaces are in an adjacent building on Anapamu Street.

The cost of a completely revamped headquarters on Figueroa Street is expected to be $80 million, plus $50 million in interest.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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