Supervisor Peter Adam

Supervisor Peter Adam

Recently, Supervisor Steve Lavagnino wrote an opinion piece saying that Santa Barbara County’s government is doing great and being managed well on your behalf.

First, I’m going to tell you why that’s wrong. Then I’m going to tell you why Supervisor Lavagnino is putting out this piece of propaganda.

First, our county’s labor costs are out of control. The private sector has experienced a 5.5-percent wage growth over the last six years. During that same period, the non-safety employees of the County have enjoyed a 16.7-percent growth in pay.

The growth in the safety employees has been even greater — 32.2 percent.

The county Board of Supervisors did this. They could have held the line of wage increases to match those of the private sector workers who have to pay the bill. But they didn’t.

This is fundamentally unfair and shows a disconnectedness between the supervisors and county employees on the one hand, and the people who pay their salaries on the other.

I am not blaming the employees in any bargaining unit for this. They are generally good people trying to do the right thing. But they live in the same economic reality as the rest of us, and should not be getting 3-6 times the wage increases that the people paying their salaries get. Fair is fair.

Then there is the maintenance issue. Mr. Lavagnino joined forces with our South County colleagues to defeat Measure M, which would have forced them to fully fund annual maintenance costs. Their alternative plan to devote $100 million over 10 years isn’t a solution.

This level of spending actually allows the situation to get worse for many years to come.

Mr. Lavagnino selects statistics to make the case that our management is sound. For example, he brags that Santa Maria’s streets have a satisfactory Pavement Condition Index (PCI) of 78.

That number is for the city of Santa Maria, not Santa Barbara County, and thus a parameter that Mr. Lavagnino had nothing to do with and cannot take credit for.

The credit goes to the longstanding priority of street maintenance by the Santa Maria City Council. Drive outside the city limits onto the Fifth Districts’s 164 lane miles of cCounty roads, and the number falls to a PCI of 60.

In other words, into the “at risk” category, a single point above “poor.”

What Supervisor Lavagnino did not tell you was how deeply in debt we are due to retirement costs. When you include retiree health care, the total pension liability of the Santa Barbara County taxpayer is over a billion dollars.

That is over $2,300 for every man, woman and child in Santa Barbara County. That’s just county liability. State and Federal debt that our children will eventually have to pay off is in addition.

While Mr. Lavagnino’s statistics may be true, the omissions make it misleading.

All these good circumstances are a direct result, and indeed a consequence, of the force of our market economy and great management by the CEO’s office. In fact, the only act that the Board of Supervisors can take credit for is hiring a great CEO in Mona Miyasato.

The government in general and the Board of Supervisors in particular have had no hand in making our economy grow.

In fact, almost everything county government does impedes and obstructs business and the growth required to make our revenues expand to keep up with our costs. At the same time, the board has everything to say about the raises that could really control our costs.

The true purpose of Mr. Lavagnino’s opinion piece is to lay the groundwork for a salary hike for county supervisors, including himself. He is telling the public that the board is doing a great job and deserves a raise.

I disagree.

Board salaries are adequate, especially for a board that continues to let our labor cost soar and our roads, parks and buildings crumble.

We’ve had a few good years and my colleague has skillfully cherry-picked some numbers to make the glass seem half full. But optimism is not a plan.

Good management for a very long time is what makes us financially solvent. That is not what we supervisors are delivering to our taxpayers.

Peter Adam represents the Fourth District on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.