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Local News

Santa Barbara Finance Committee To Consider November Tax Initiative To Fund Streets Infrastructure

Santa Barbara may put a general tax measure on the November ballot to help tackle its multimillion-dollar backlog of streets and other infrastructure maintenance

The City Council this week voted to appoint a three-person ad hoc committee to consider a general tax and a variety of other options, including budget cuts to help fund streets, medians, streetlights, sidewalks, traffic signals and a variety of other items. 

“Our streets funding situation has gotten worse,” City Administrator Paul Casey said. 

“We’re not able to maintain the status quo. We’re down to the point of having to make some difficult decisions. There’s nothing easy here.”

The council appointed its finance committee of Gregg Hart, Jason Dominguez and Harwood “​Bendy” White to examine the problem.

The finance committee meets on Tuesdays at the David Gebhard Room, 630 Garden St., typically at 12:30 p.m. before the 2 p.m. council meeting. 

The council would have to declare the situation a fiscal emergency to put the item before voters this year since no other city matter appears on the ballot. Five of the council members, a super-majority, would have to support the measure. 

Casey nor Public Works Director Rebecca Bjork offered any specifics about the proposed options. 

“You won’t like the options we are going to present to you on the table,” Casey said. 

The city has a roughly $13.5 million budget for streets. That money, however, pays things other than potholes.

The money pays also for graffiti abatement, homeless encampment clean-up, garbage removal around town, portable toilets, striping and curb painting, and street sweeping.

Casey said during the meeting that decisions could involve cuts to some of the items that the street funding revenue pays for now.

The city is already millions of dollars behind in its backlog on maintenance and is expecting a budget shortfall of about $1 million by 2017.

A decline in the state’s gas tax, which is expected to drop by 8 percent by 2017, is partly to blame. 

White said he cares deeply about fixing the infrastructure maintenance problem. 

“It’s tragic that our beautiful city is hurting this much,” he said. 

Hart said he’s looking forward to digging into the problem to find solutions.

“There are no silver bullets,” Hart said. “There are no easy answers. There isn’t going to be one way to solve this. It is going to take a lot of hard choices added together. The scale of the problem is just too big.”

Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said she would like to see the city create an educational video piece for City TV to let people know about the tough choices ahead. 

“I am just hoping there will be some good public outreach so that people know it’s not just a bunch of suits sitting down there in the Gebhard Room, that they are tackling something that is going to benefit and affect the future.”

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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