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With Revenue Estimates Dropping, Santa Barbara Council Adopts Changes to 2017 Budget

The Santa Barbara City Council adopted changes to the city’s fiscal year 2017 budget on Wednesday as projected revenues are turning out lower than previously expected, and new and worsening funding needs have increasingly come to light.

The changes involve various fees charged by the city, requests for funding by outside organizations, and a shifting of money from capital-improvement projects to city streets.

The City Council also moved forward with the implementation of a revised noise ordinance that features increasing fees with each new offense for violators.

Additionally, the council approved a number of other fee increases recommended by its Finance Committee and city staff.

While most city fees were left untouched or increased by 2 percent, others, such as design review fees for urban development projects and fees for receiving certain permits, are increasing by 15 percent.

Large projects proposed through the average unit density program — which aims to provide dense, affordable housing — will see a 50-percent fee increase for reviews by city entities such as the Planning Commission.

Finance Director Robert Samario estimated that these increased fees would yield $53,000 in extra revenue, most of which will go toward the Community Development Department, and the rest to Public Works and the Fire Department.

The council also voted to grant more money to outside organizations than originally recommended by the Finance Committee.

The challenge during these trying fiscal times, Councilman Gregg Hart acknowledged, was “performing triage” and determining what kind of funding, if any, each of the many worthy organizations should receive.

The Finance Committee, chaired by Hart, received $409,000 in total requests for general fund money, mostly for annual commitments.

The council voted 6–0 in favor a one-time $33,700 request from Downtown Santa Barbara for parking-related work.

Councilman Randy Rowse abstained due to a conflict of interest because he owns a downtown restaurant.

The council voted unanimously for an ongoing $4,500 commitment for the Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment, or BEACON, to be paid for by the Waterfront Department.

Funding for homeless services, particularly for PATH, an organization that now administers the Casa Esparanza homeless shelter, received the most attention from the council.

PATH requested an ongoing commitment of $125,000, while the Finance Committee recommended a one-time, $75,000 allocation.

After impassioned comments from several representatives of homeless services organizations, the council  voted 6–1, with Councilman Bendy White dissenting, to grant the full $125,000 request, but only for fiscal year 2017.

The goal, council members and City Administrator Paul Casey said, is to provide this one-time grant, and then work to make that amount an ongoing commitment in future budgets.

“When you think about reducing the $50,000 to Casa (Esparanza), you’re really raising costs across the board for the city, and you’re creating immense problems which may not be created (otherwise),” said Peter Marin, a local advocate for the homeless, before the vote.

The more money the city commits to helping the homeless now, he said, the less it will have to pay out down the line to address issues such as taking care of sick — and deceased — members of the homeless community who lack shelter because it was not funded.

Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilwoman Cathy Murillo expressed the need for a greater examination of homelessness in the city.

“I think we really do need a conversation of what is the city’s role in totality related to funding for homeless-related services,” Schneider said. “I think it’s a worthy conversation that we should have, not just for PATH, but in the bigger picture — all the different organizations coming around.”

The Coalition Against Gun Violence, which had requested $25,000 for its third-annual Santa Barbara gun buyback fair, ended up with a one-time $10,000 grant after several public speakers argued that the program, which has collected several hundred guns over the last couple years through the buybacks, was necessary and effective.

The council’s 7–0 vote came with the request that the Coalition broaden its search for public and private funding sources.

Toni Wellen, the organization’s chair, said that the funding goes toward gift cards given to the anonymous firearm owners in exchange for their guns.

The council also committed a one-time allocation of $11,000 for the county of Santa Barbara’s 2-1-1 Helpline, which provides information on a wide variety of community information and services.

One of the toughest predicaments the Finance Committee faced when reviewing the city’s budget and financial needs during a year of lower-than-expected revenue, committee members explained, is funding its infrastructure— especially street maintenance and improvement.

To help ease the increasing disparity between street-maintenance needs and available funding for it, the council decided to reprogram several capital-improvement projects, redirecting $810,000 to street paving.

By another unanimous vote, renovations to the Cabrillo ball park, medians and parkway landscaping, and the Municipal Tennis Center, as well as the development of a Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan, are to be scaled back, with the subsequent savings heading over to streets.

“The streets fund is in crisis condition,” Casey explained.

The freed-up funds would make up about a third of the money that will be going to street paving, which city staff said requires $8 million to $10 million a year just to be properly maintained.

The more money the city puts toward maintaining streets today, staff said, the less it will have to worry about the compounding — and increasingly expensive — rippling effects of street deterioration down the line.

The council finished off the meeting by voting, with Hart and Murillo dissenting, to look at development-mitigation fees at a future meeting, an idea that originated with councilmen White and Jason Dominguez.

The goal of the fees, which would be charged to developers, likely for city permits and project reviews, would be to slow down the recent onslaught of new development proposals. The average unit density program, the cause of a significant number of the proposals, is not the specific target of the fees, White said.

Casey acknowledged that the adoption of such fees would add considerably to city staff’s workload, and would likely take a year to develop and require outside consultants and studies in order to complete.

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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