Statewide shutdowns and COVID-19 response costs will have a huge financial impact, according to Santa Barbara County officials, but no one knows how much or for how long.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet this week to review and vote on a proposed $1.19 billion budget for the 2020-2021 year, which starts July 1.
It is considered a “status quo” budget, with no major cuts or service expansions except for the expected opening of the Northern Branch Jail near Santa Maria, which is still under construction.
County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato and Assistant CEO Jeff Frapwell said Friday that next year’s budget assumes losing $21.7 million in revenues because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as response costs of $5.6 million.
The county’s biggest payers of transient occupancy tax — luxury hotels like the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore and the Rosewood Miramar Beach in Montecito and The Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Goleta — have either been closed or experienced a significant reduction in guests during California’s nearly three-month shutdown.
As of late April, 20 percent of South Coast hotels were temporarily closed, and occupancy for the rest ranged between 10 percent and 15 percent, according to Visit Santa Barbara.
Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t lifted restrictions on leisure travel yet, but if it happens by the end of the year, Santa Barbara could capture some of the peak tourism season, Frapwell said.
“There’s the assumption that we get back to the current year level in the next two years” for revenues, he said.
The uncertainty is not in whether there will be coronavirus-related economic impacts in the future, but for how long, according to Frapwell.
“If we have (a COVID-19) resurgence, will it be significant enough to compel the state to repeat their stay-at-home order?” he asked. “And will that shut our local economy and the state economy down again? If that happens, for how long?”
Miyasato said the county receives about 35 percent of its funding from the state and federal governments. It’s uncertain what the status of that funding is, as well as pandemic-assistance funding, since neither Sacramento nor Washington, D.C., has adopted a new budget yet.
Santa Barbara County’s budget personnel are not assuming that any assistance is coming, and they propose using millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenues and the Strategic Reserve Fund to make up for lower revenues.
Miyasato said the county is better positioned for an economic downturn now than it was during the Great Recession.
Although no major cuts are proposed right now, her office put a restricted hiring program in place and is asking departments to plan for potential reductions later — up to 6 percent.
The new 376-bed Northern Branch Jail is estimated to cost $20.4 million to operate its first year, which is in addition to the cost of operating the much larger Main Jail near Santa Barbara.
The 2020-21 Sheriff’s Department proposed budget for custody operations is $73.5 million, which includes $19.5 million to operate the new jail, according to the County Executive Office. The other $900,000 estimated operating cost will come from the General Services Department budget for maintenance and supplies, county spokeswoman Gina DePinto said.
Sheriff’s Department policies during COVID-19 have led to a historically low in-custody population — fewer than 600 people — and if that continues for the long term, the county might re-evaluate its custody staffing needs, Frapwell said.
“The Northern Branch Jail, when it opens, has a different configuration that makes it less staff intensive, so it could help us in that regard,” he said.
The Board of Supervisors budget hearings are scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Meetings are still closed to the public, but both hearings will be livestreamed on CSBTV and the county website.
Public comments can be submitted by emailing the Clerk of the Board by 5 p.m. Monday at email@example.com. Those comments can be placed into the record or read into the record during the meeting if they are no more than 250 words and request to be “read into the record.”
To comment by phone during the meeting, call 805.568.240 and state your name, phone number and which agenda item on which you plan to speak, and the Clerk of the Board will call at the appropriate time.
Click here to read the 2020-2021 budget documents.
— 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.