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Santa Barbara County Supervisors Will Consider Staffing, Program Cuts for Next Year’s Budget

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will consider budget cuts — including staff layoffs and pulling from its strategic reserve fund — to close its projected $35 million gap for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The supervisors held three budget workshops this week to consider deficit-closing measures and give direction for the County Executive Officer’s recommended budget, which will be released in May.

They will make final decisions on the budget in June.

Santa Barbara County is expecting increasing costs in the next few years, not least from pension obligations that have ballooned to $1.02 billion in unfunded liabilities.

Small revenue growth is forecast for next year, of about 1.9 percent, and a revenue drop is expected for the year after that, according to county budget documents.  

“We expect continuing funding gaps,” CEO Mona Miyasato said at Friday’s budget workshop.

The county budget projections for next year include reducing staffing from 4,401 full-time equivalent positions to 4,125 next year, both through eliminating vacancies and layoffs, according to budget documents.

County departments put forward recommendations for service-level reductions, mostly reducing staff positions, and requests for additional funding, which will all be considered by the board.

The Board of Supervisors isn’t expected to add any money into the county’s strategic reserve next year and may withdraw some funds from it, bringing it below the 8-percent level that has been a target for county leaders.

Miyasato suggested that the board not let the fund dip below 7 percent. It’s designed to cover a 30-day operating period for the county and should increase every year and if not, the board should be careful about how much it draws out, she cautioned.

The board members voiced consensus for funding maintenance projects, public safety and core social services, including behavioral wellness, and will make their final budgeting decisions in June.

Next year’s budget includes another $9.1 million toward the Northern Branch Jail operations fund to work toward $18 million, the expected annual operating cost once it opens in 2019. The Sheriff’s Department will also start spending money to hire custody deputies to staff the new jail, staff said.

Several department heads have been meeting to look at long-term budget “rebalancing” and presented their suggestions to the board Friday.

Undersheriff Barney Melekian said there’s a high likelihood of an economic recession in the next three to five years as salary, benefit and pension costs continue to increase.

Outsourcing some work, consolidating departments and office space, and centralizing core services such as information technology and human resources were all specific suggestions from the executive steering committee.

They also suggested a serious look at mandatory versus discretionary programs, and creating teams to study ending department service duplication.

As an example, Public Defender Tracy Macuga said her office and the District Attorney’s Office both budget for transcripts, and perhaps there’s a way to consolidate that, she suggested.

The committee even talked about retirement costs and alternatives to pensions, a “sacred cow,” she said.

The presentation got mixed reactions from the board, with Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf objecting to the idea of outsourcing services, saying it had to be done very strategically.

At some point in the future, the county won’t be able to provide the same level of service as it does now because of increasing costs, said Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam told the department heads they need to have the courage to tell the board when changes need to be made.

“Business as usual’s not going to work,” he said.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli 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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