COVID briefing
Santa Barbara County government and public health officials give a briefing on local COVID-19 cases. The financial effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic are uncertain as the county starts its budget planning for the 2020-21 fiscal year that starts July 1. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors plans to hold a budget workshop Monday, even as the financial effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic are still uncertain.

Sales tax, gas tax and transient occupancy tax revenues are susceptible to losses from the decreased retail and tourism activity. Budget staff estimated two weeks ago that the county would lose at least $3.6 million in General Fund revenues for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Before the pandemic, the county’s five-year forecast predicted a slight surplus next year and then a mild recession, but revenues look “increasing at risk of declines,” the County Executive Office said in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

Local cannabis tax revenues, which are considered recession-resistant, are expected to come in higher than ever, and the Board of Supervisors may use those millions of dollars to compensate for revenue losses in other areas.

Cannabis businesses paid $6.7 million in county taxes last year and have paid $4.8 million in the first half of the current fiscal year.

Budget documents for Monday’s workshop show plans to spend $2.9 million on enforcement next year, slightly more than the current year, $480,000 on administration and tax collection, and to allocate $10 million toward COVID-19 expenses and “backfilling” revenue losses.

General Fund revenue chart projection county

The county’s General Fund operating revenues are expected to stay mostly flat next year, according to a financial projection in 2020-21 budget documents. (Santa Barbara County chart)

That, plus about $900,000 toward maintenance, means the county is planning on receiving and spending $14.35 million in cannabis revenues next year.

The objective for next year’s budget is to maintain current service levels as much as possible and not approve program or staffing expansions, according to budget staff.

The recommended budget will be released in May, and the Board of Supervisors will hold hearings and vote on a 2020-21 budget in June.

Employee salary and benefit costs are projected to increase 2.6 percent next year at a cost of about $3.8 million, and the market impacts on the county’s retirement fund could have significant budget effects for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Salary benefit cost increase chart

Increasing salary and benefit expenses will cost the county about $3.8 million more next year, according to budget documents. (Santa Barbara County chart)

Another looming cost increase for the county is the 376-bed Northern Branch Jail, which is expected to finish construction in a few months and start accepting inmates around September.

Annual operating costs for that facility were last estimated around $20 million, and that is in addition to operating the larger Main Jail facility on the South Coast. The county will need to staff both jails since the in-custody population has averaged around 900 people during the past several years.

Efforts to reduce the in-custody population and limit new bookings because of the novel coronavirus have resulted in the lowest jail population in 50 years — about 685 people in late March.

County COVID-19 Cost Effects

Santa Barbara County’s costs associated with the COVID-19 response include activating the Emergency Operations Center, ordering personal protective equipment and other supplies, planning for alternate care sites and having increased demand for county services, including medical and safety net services.

The Public Health Department’s network of clinics is taking on the cost of screening and testing for uninsured residents.

“We had heard in other areas COVID patients were sick and didn’t get the care they needed due to cost being a barrier,” Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said in late March.

It was decided to waive co-pays for patient visits who have COVID-19-like symptoms, she said.

“As long as you present with those symptoms, we will treat you, and treat you at no cost,” she said.

Do-Reynoso and Public Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg have been the faces of the county’s pandemic response and participate in information briefings almost daily.

The department’s budget report tells the Board of Supervisors that the ongoing response is straining its workforce and resources.

At this point, the pandemic and stay-at-home orders have spread to every county department. Law enforcement and fire personnel are trying to limit contacts with the public, and they are often wearing personal protective equipment when they respond to calls. 

The Elections Office wants to conduct a mail-only November election.

The Treasurer-Tax Collector plans to issue penalty waivers for late property tax payments on a case-by-case basis.

County Parks have closed campgrounds to encourage social distancing.

Many services have gone online as departments close their public counters.

Defense attorneys and public defenders are trying to get early releases for in-custody clients, a process that has been slowed by court closures

Community Services Department Director George Chapjian recently told the Board of Supervisors that Good Samaritan is taking over the temporary shelter for homeless residents, which the county established March 21 at Santa Maria High School, and the county is trying to develop partnerships with other sites and hotels to house local homeless people during the pandemic.

Chapjian said county staff time and expenses are being tracked and coded to the COVID-19 response, so they should be able to get reimbursed for the majority of the costs.  

Monday’s budget workshop is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. and will be live-streamed on the county website and YouTube page as well as being broadcast on CSBTV Channel 20.   

Sales TOT tax revenue projection chart

Santa Barbara County expects to lose millions of dollars in sales and transient occupancy tax revenues for the current fiscal year, and lower revenues related to the pandemic could last into next year. (Santa Barbara County chart)

Click here to read the budget presentations submitted by each department. 

In-person participation is not allowed at Board of Supervisors meetings right now; instructions for remote participation and public comment are below, and on the Clerk of the Board website.

» Distribution to the Board of Supervisors: Submit comments via email before 5 p.m. on the day before the board meeting. Submit comments to the Clerk of the Board at Comments will be placed into the record and distributed appropriately.

» Read into the record at the meeting: Submit comments via email before the close of an agenda item, limited to 250 words or less, to the Clerk of the Board at State in the email that the comment should be “read into the record.” Every effort will be made to read all comments into the record, but some comments may not be read because of time limitations. Comments timely received on an agenda item will be placed into the record and distributed accordingly.

» By phone: To make a comment by phone, call 805.568.2240 and provide your name, phone number and the item you would like to speak on. The clerk will call you at the appropriate time (during the meeting). Please make every effort to be available and mute all streaming devices once it is your turn to speak.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Property tax projection chart

Santa Barbara County property tax revenue trends. (Santa Barbara County chart)