Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 11:21 pm | Fair 63º


Local News

Santa Barbara County Supervisors Pass $1 Billion Budget

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors adopted a $1 billion budget Wednesday for the county’s fiscal year 2017, which starts July 1.

With Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam casting the lone nay vote, the board approved a budget that county officials agreed reflects an improving fiscal environment as the effects and cuts of the recession begin to fade.

In all, the budget outlines just over $1 billion in operating expenses — up 3 percent from last year — and slightly more in operating revenue, which amounts to a 4.8-percent increase over last year’s funding.

With the exception of Adam, the supervisors expressed their general satisfaction with what they had adopted.

“I feel very good about this budget,” First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said.

“Do we still have challenges? Absolutely. Have we done well in trying to come up with a balanced budget that provides for the most vulnerable, that provides for public safety, and invests in our infrastructure? Absolutely. Is it perfect? No.”

The Board of Supervisors agreed to fund new county positions, including an environmental and wage theft attorney in the District Attorney’s office, a Public Health Department nurse, a veterans’ services officer, a Sheriff’s Department service technician, and a County Counsel attorney.

Nearly $250,000 was allocated for in-patient treatment beds for Behavioral Wellness, $200,000 for the county’s library system, $100,000 for deferred maintenance to be undertaken by the General Services Department, and $95,000 for the potential implementation of a Community Choice Energy program being explored in the tri-county region.

A dozen outside organizations — primarily related to providing food and shelter for the needy and seniors — also received one-time funding.

The supervisors laid out their own funding priorities and spending philosophies before the customary haggling over departments’ and outside organizations’ ongoing and one-time funding requests.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf stressed the importance of the county’s health and wellness needs, and Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr emphasized food, shelter, and safety needs.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino applauded what he said was the budget’s firm commitment to safety issues.

“This budget is not just balanced financially, but with where our priorities are and what we’re spending that money on,” he said.

Adam voted for allocating funds only to deferred maintenance work for the Parks, General Services, and Public Works departments, and insisted that the budget was effectively still not balanced if fundamental infrastructure needs are still allowed to mount.

“I would argue that there is a fiscal emergency, and I do not see a soft landing if we don’t begin now to curb our spending on feel-good projects and ramp up our spending on our core responsibilities,” he said.

“The truth is that we have been balancing our budget on the backs of our infrastructure for many years.”

Although it was dubbed a “status quo budget” for not making any momentous spending or savings adjustments, the theme of “Challenges, Changes, and Choices Ahead” was intended to reflect issues that have increasingly required attention from the county.

A decrease in gas tax revenues and state funds for roads have helped draw greater attention to the county’s infrastructure, which has already suffered from extensive deferred maintenance.

The supervisors expressed frustration over state and federal funding policies and actions that have considerably constrained the county’s ability to take care of its roads.

“This whole concept of government services being provided in partnership at all levels of government works really well when it works,” said Farr. “But when your partners start turning their back on you, that’s when we run into problems. And try as we might, we’re just not going to be able to fill the void left in roads funding.”

One of the hopes of the Public Works Department is that the state will embrace one of three proposals put forward by two state legislators and the governor intending to offset the reductions in transportation funding by increasing fees and taxes on things like zero-emission vehicles and fuels.

The proposals would provide the county anywhere from $6 million to $13 million.

As infrastructure needs have mounted, the county has identified more and more capital improvement projects that it now has the financial means to pursue, such as the proposed 376-bed Northern Branch County Jail near Santa Maria and the rebuilding of Cuyama Fire Station 21.

The county has also witnessed an increased demand for in-patient mental health services and seen an increase in violent crime in the North County, which have highlighted the needs of health and human services departments, the Sheriff's Department, and the District Attorney's office.

The greatest sources of revenue for next year will come from intergovernmental revenues, at $387 million; taxes, at $292 million; and charges for county services, at $262 million. ​

In April, the supervisors held a round of budget workshops in which the county’s departments presented their requests for new one-time and ongoing funds for proposed operations, which totaled $11.8 million and $17.3 million, respectively.​

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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