Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 11:58 pm | Overcast 66º


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Santa Barbara County Supervisors Approve $1.1 Billion Spending Plan

Supervisor Janet Wolf votes no, citing opposition to use of cannabis tax at this time

Board of Supervisors meeting room Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors listens to comments Monday before approving a $1.1 billion budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved a $1.1 billion budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year after a long political debate over cannabis tax money and the future of economic development in the county. 

The vote was 4-1, with Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf voting against the budget, the first time she has done so in 12 years as a supervisor.

Wolf said she could not support the use of $3.7 million in estimated cannabis taxes in the budget because the exact revenue amounts are unknown.

"We don’t have it. We don’t have the money," Wolf said. "There’s no guarantee that that money or that amount is what they say it is going to be. That is not the way you budget.

"I have never seen a budget done that way in my all years."

Wolf said she would rather stash the money in a separate cannabis fund and then spend it after it came in. 

The county estimates that it will receive  $6.3 million in cannabis tax revenue in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. From that, the county has budgeted $1.6 million in staffing costs associated with permitting and licensing, and $1.7 million in staffing costs associated with enforcement, leaving $4.6 million unallocated.

Of that, $3.7 million will go toward Santa Maria's Union Valley Parkway project, county solar initiatives, deferred maintenance and other projects. The remaining amount will sit unallocated until mid-year. 

Monday's budget hearing also ballooned into a discussion about the differences between the North County and the South Coast, and the future of jobs and economic development.

The board spent all day Monday discussing the $1.1 billion budget, with a focus on how to replenish the $6.3 million the county spent from its Strategic Reserve Fund in response to the Jan. 9 debris flow in Montectio.

The state has promised to provide $4.4 million to backfill the county's property tax losses that were incurred because of the disasters. 

Missing from the discussion, said Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, was any long-term talk of economic development. He said the budget was too focused on the South Coast economy, and not the North County. 

"You never talk about where the money comes from, nor do you analyze the issues of where your money comes from," said Caldwell, noting that oil was the largest tax provider in the county. 

Caldwell said poverty is getting worse in North County and that “there’s something really scary here."

“You have helped create a permanent urban underclass by the policies that you have created.”

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino agreed.

"While things are going well financially and economically in our county, things at least in my district aren't getting any better," Lavagnino said. "We have more people on assistance. What are we gonna do different? 

Lavagnino said two-thirds of the children in his North County district are on some sort of social assistance.

While Caldwell and Lavagnino hammered home the importance of creating new jobs, board chair Das Williams pushed back, saying that it wasn't just government's responsibility to uplift the economy.

"There is something wrong with how we do things in this county and I am not talking about county government; I am talking about society," Williams said. "There are more people employed but they are employed at fewer hours and they are employeed at lower wages."

He said county government is over-dependent on agriculture and tourism, and is facing challenges in retail because people buy products from Amazon instead of a local business. 

"We vote with our dollar, not just at election time," Williams said.

Third District Superisor Joan Hartmann too said the county wasn't the entire problem.

"We have many different economiies throughout Santa Barbara and it really is the cities that are responsible for economic development," she said. 

Other budget notables included:

The county increased its staffing by 84.9 budgeted full time equivalent positions, primarily reflecting additional staff for the Northern Branch Jail. The Board also funded a Deputy Probation Officer for the supervision of sex offenders and an Energy and Sustainability Initiatives (ESI) team project leader.

Next fiscal  year, the board plans to embark on a Renew ’22 initiative that aims to reimagine the budget to reduce our expenses and become more efficient.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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