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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 2:50 pm | Overcast 61º


Santa Barbara Council to Tackle Infrastructure, Staffing, Vacation Rentals During Budget Talks

The Santa Barbara City Council kicked off two months of budget discussions Tuesday, receiving a general overview of 2015-16 financials and scheduling several public workshops on the topic, the first of which is set for next week.

Santa Barbara’s finances are looking good, according to City Administrator Paul Casey, but officials already picked out some key competing priorities for the coming year’s budget, which the council will approve in June.

Does the council want to restore city government jobs, close a policy-reserve gap or increase funding for capital projects and infrastructure?

Two more curveballs: whether the city will change city zoning policies to curb short-term vacation rentals in residential areas — losing out on valuable bed tax dollars — and how it will do without $1.7 million the city will lose this year in legal settlement costs.

The Santa Barbara City Council got its first glimpse Tuesday at the recommended two-year financial plan for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, with proposed operating and capital expenses for 2016.

General fund sales tax and transient occupancy tax revenues have been strong the past two years and are expected to stay that way, but council members still must find a way to keep up with continued increases in retirement costs and significantly underfunded capital needs.

City departments will share proposed budgets during the public hearing process, which begins with the first special budget work session on April 30 from 3-6 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers. 

High on the list of “asks” will be spending $780,000 to hire eight full-time employees across several departments, bringing the city employee total to 1,025, said Bob Samario, the city's finance director and acting assistant city administrator.

The city’s proposed 2016 operating budget of $126.8 million — total budget of nearly $400 million — will be funded in part from expected property tax growth, which Samario said is anticipated to increase 4.2 percent.

As usual, public safety expenses made up the bulk of the budget, with 32 percent proposed for the Santa Barbara Police Department and 20 percent for the Santa Barbara City Fire Department.

Samario said the drought is having a “significant financial impact” on the city’s budget, since it has to purchase more outside water and likely will restart the desalination facility.

City Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said she was concerned the budget seemed to rely on funds from short-term vacation rentals, which pay TOT and for a business license but are technically illegal in residential zones.

The City Council is expected to take a look at modifying its zoning on that issue in six to nine months, Casey said, the impacts of which wouldn’t be felt until 2017.

Last year, Santa Barbara collected $800,000 in TOT from short-term rentals, he said.

Mayor Pro Tempore Gregg Hart suggested that the council factor that loss into this year’s discussions.

Hart called hits from settling the district elections lawsuit and the $700,000 the city has set aside in case it needs to repay Southern California Edison customers for an illegally collected surcharge “a big deal.”

“The vacation rental revenue stream is going to be a problem in the future,” he said, adding that a strong reserve fund is another of his priorities.

The list of budget work sessions, all of which will be held in council chambers, is as follows:

» Thursday, April 30, 3 to 6 p.m. for the library department, community development department and Redevelopment Agency successor agency

» Monday, May 4, 3 to 6 p.m. for the departments of finance, general government, administrative services, City Attorney's Office, City Administrator's Office, and Mayor and City Council

» Monday, May 11, 6 to 9 p.m. for the parks and recreation department, including the creeks and golf funds

» Wednesday, May 13, 3 to 6 p.m. for enterprise funds including the Santa Barbara Airport, waterfront and solid waste fund

» Monday, May 18, 2 to 5 p.m. for the public works department

» Wednesday, May 20, 2 to 5 p.m. for the police and fire departments

» Monday, June 1, 2 ti 5 p.m. for budget recommendations by the Finance Committee, deliberations by the City Council and final direction to staff 

Two more dates were set aside in case council deliberations continue — 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday, June 3 and 3 to 6 p.m. Monday, June 8 — and council is set to adopt a final budget at a regular meeting June 23.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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