Members of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors are discussing details of the proposed $1.4 billion budget for the coming fiscal year at public hearings this week, including plans for spending federal COVID-19 relief money.
The county was allocated about $87 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, and about $30 million of it has not been budgeted yet, according to the County Executive Office.
The county expects all types of general revenues to increase in the 2022-23 fiscal year, which starts July 1, including sales tax and tourism-dependent transient occupancy tax (levied on hotels, motels and short-term rentals), which have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.
The county’s spending in the proposed budget shows a $50 million increase from the previous year.
Click here to read Santa Barbara County’s 2022-23 budget documents.
On Monday, health and human services departments and general governmental services departments presented their proposed budgets.
These workshops are held to provide the five-member Board of Supervisors with detailed information for each department, and a chance to give policy and funding direction to the County Executive Office. The recommended budget will be released in May, and the supervisors will adopt a budget in June.
No major cuts or service reductions are proposed for next year.
County departments appear to be planning for no major COVID-19-related disruptions in the coming year, but representatives consistently talked about the ongoing impacts of the pandemic on staffing, remote work, community needs and demand for services.
County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato said the county “can’t just snap back to where we were in 2019,” and needs to reset based on what everyone learned from the experience.
“I think the pandemic has shown the need to reinforce our safety net and help those with less opportunity recover,” she said Monday.
Toni Navarro, the behavioral wellness director who joined the county four months ago, said the demand for behavioral health services has been growing while the department has experienced severe staffing shortages.
“Things are looking up” with 20 positions hired and being onboarded now, she noted.
Navarro’s department, known as BeWell for short, is expanding several services for mental health and alcohol/drug treatment, including assisted outpatient treatment workers.
The county is also committing funding to keep the three co-response teams beyond their grant funding.
These are teams of mental health professionals and sheriff’s deputies who respond together to mental health crisis emergency calls. The county started this program several years ago as a grant-funded pilot program, and now some local cities are developing their own co-response teams.
BeWell is seeing “historically unprecedented levels” of collaboration between behavioral wellness and the criminal-justice system, Navarro said, especially for people in the criminal-justice system who are chronically homeless and experiencing severe and persistent mental illness.
“Over the previous few decades those two, in funding and in practice, should never meet and in fact we had prohibitions on (funding) that did not allow us to serve this population, even when they were released on parole,” she said.
New legislation will change incompetent-to-stand-trial cases for people charged with misdemeanor crimes, and pushes those defendants toward diversion and mental health programs, Navarro told the supervisors.
“This is going to help us again identify people on the front end and hopefully wrap them up in services soon, so they don’t end up in the (Psychiatric Health Facility),” she said, adding that it is also expected to reduce the number of administrative days in the inpatient PHF.
“How that translates is, when you have less severe patients, when you’re doing more of the work on the front end, then you have less of a need to have that higher level of care, but at the same time it allows us to have a flow, if you will, because we will have more of the outreach workers to be able to help people when they’re stepping down, should they need to go to the PHF in the first place,” Navarro said.
“For so many decades, people with severe and persistent mental illness have inappropriately ended up in law enforcement systems since the collapse of the state hospital system, and now California is really looking to turn that tide and correct that, and BeWell will be a huge partner in that with justice (departments),” she said.
The Public Health Department has had a very busy two years handling the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccination and testing clinics.
Director Van Do-Reynoso said the department needs to recruit and retain qualified employees and rebuild its operations after two years of pandemic response.
“What the pandemic has shown me and other community leaders as well as our department is that we are not in this alone, and to have sustainable change we need to involve other county departments as well as (community-based organizations), philanthropy and community leaders,” Do-Reynoso said.
The challenges of recruiting and hanging on to qualified employees was echoed by every department head at Monday’s workshop, including Human Resources Director Maria Elena De Guevara.
She said the county is seeing fewer applicants per job, and overall a smaller pool of potential workers, especially for entry-level, public-facing positions.
The county plans to make new policies to better address employee needs, support employee mental health, and continue the availability of remote and hybrid work environments.
The share of county employees working remotely in some form was just 4% in 2019 and that jumped to 36% in 2020 when the pandemic hit, she said. It’s currently at 35%.
Watch County Budget Workshops
The budget workshops continue Tuesday and Thursday with more departments presenting their plans for the next fiscal year, and special discussions on capital projects and maintenance; digital technology improvements; and American Rescue Plan Act (federal COVID-19 relief) funding.
Click here to read Santa Barbara County’s 2022-23 budget documents.
Each day’s workshop starts at 9 a.m. in the Santa Barbara County Administration Building Board Hearing Room on the fourth floor of 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara. They are also livestreamed through CSBTV Channel 20, the county website, YouTube and Zoom.
Tuesday will include presentations from: Sheriff’s Office; District Attorney’s Office; Public Defender’s Office; Probation Department; County Fire Department; Agriculture, Weights and Measures; Planning and Development; Community Services; Public Works; and the special issue of maintenance and capital projects.
Thursday will include presentations from: County Counsel; Board of Supervisors; County Executive Office; General County Programs and Fund Balances; and the special issues of digital transformation updates and ARPA funding.
— Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.