Santa Barbara County officials on Friday lamented what are sure to be difficult decisions heading into the budget-crafting process, but most didn’t tip their hats to which requests they care about most.
No layoffs are anticipated over the next two years, but limited resources mean not every department can add employees or expand services.
From the dais, Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam and Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf were the only officials to provide wish lists of their own.
“For me, the whole purpose of this week is to lay out priorities,” Adam said, noting his No. 1 priority is devoting the $1 million in funding to keep the Santa Maria Branch Jail open.
Wolf favored bolstering the Clerk-Recorder and Assessor departments ahead of the fall election and continuing progress in certain areas of County Public Health, such as animal services, among other desires.
As in most years, departments asked for more money than the board can divvy up come June, when final budget decisions will be made.
Overall, department heads asked for $17.3 million more in ongoing funding and $11.8 million in one-time funding.
The county anticipates being $6 million in the black by the end of the fiscal year June 30, with $4.6 million of that as ongoing savings.
On Friday, as the supervisors heard from the Auditor-Controller, Treasurer-Tax-Collector, County CEO’s Office and others, Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he, too, was compiling a list.
The supervisors thanked County CEO Mona Miyasato and staff for presenting critical information, but Lavagnino said he was frustrated staff couldn’t provide an exact dollar amount up for grabs.
“We can do all these budget workshops until we’re blue in the face,” he said, adding that he wanted more information to bring to his constituents.
Lavagnino also questioned just how “strategic” the county’s $31 million strategic reserve (8 percent of the total budget) is, considering most capital projects will only get more expensive as they’re put off.
Adam agreed, with County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni noting a healthy reserve makes the county look good when applying for project loans (that could then have lower interest payments).
County Planning and Development Director Glenn Russell said his department’s highest priorities were getting air conditioning for the County Engineering Building ($1.62 million) and adding security measures for public counters, hearing rooms and staff offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria ($220,000).
He asked the supervisors to give direction on which long-range planning projects a limited number of staff should focus on, getting a unanimous vote to continue as is while pushing a countywide outdoor lighting ordinance update ($59,000) into the following year’s budget.
Overall, the supervisors said they thought the draft budget kept the county on the same positive, forward-looking path.
“We’ve come a long way in just five years,” Miyasato said of stable finances and a moderate growth rate.
The county is making headway to address millions in deferred maintenance and pension responsibilities, she said, noting that covering pension might be an issue come 2017-18.
An increase in violent crime in Santa Maria is having a ripple effect across other departments, which is where she said the budget could shore up holes.
Miyasato recommended the board keep the Santa Maria Branch Jail open as the County Sheriff’s Department struggles to fill vacant positions, and to pay for a North County Jail project with construction bids that have come in $11 million over the budgeted $67 million.
Strengthening mental health services, recruitment efforts and finding new revenue sources were other priorities.
Adam said he wouldn’t commit to giving Sheriff Bill Brown more funded vacant positions, but spoke favorably of hiring sheriff service technicians to lighten the mandatory-overtime load.
He emphasized the need to put deferred maintenance high on the county’s to-do list, along with unfunded pension liabilities and other post-employment benefits.
“This year we are set to make the same mistakes as last year,” he said, wishing the county CEO luck after saying hiring her in 2013 was one of the best decisions the board has made.
Miyasato will be back with a recommended budget May 12, with budget hearings scheduled for June 15-17.