The county is “navigating toward a stable future,” but there are challenging years ahead, particularly with increasing salary and benefit costs, the cost of operating the future North County Jail and uncertainly with implementing the Affordable Care Act, County Executive Officer Chandra Wallar told the board.
She suggested that the supervisors not spend money bringing back or expanding program and service levels.
Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam voted against the $828 million spending plan after pushing hard for more money to be spent on road maintenance, and only partially succeeding.
By allocating less than half of what the Public Works Department needs just to keep county roads from further deteriorating, the board is increasing its future deferred maintenance liability, he said.
Other board members agreed to spend $2 million more than was planned in the recommended budget for roads, but that wasn’t enough to gain Adam’s vote.
“I don’t think it is an ideological position. I think it’s a practical position,” he said. “Until you do the things you have to do in terms of maintaining the assets you’re charged with maintaining, I don’t think you get to do any of this stuff that isn’t required.”
He was referring to board decision to allocate money for a plastic-bag-ban ordinance and a climate-change study, neither of which is mandated.
“It seems to me like somebody’s gotta draw a line in the sand, and I guess it’s going to be me,” he said.
The supervisors approved the recommended budget, and added on the following items:
» More in-patient beds for the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Department — $216,000
» Fully funding the UC Cooperative Extension/4-H Program — $153,000
» Legal support for County Counsel — $123,000
» Extra help for the Clerk of the Board Office — $50,000
» Matching funds for the Santa Barbara Superior Courthouse Mural Room restoration — $40,000
» An appraiser position for the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Office — $85,000
» Funding for county chambers of commerce, conference and visitors bureaus — $200,000
» A housing specialist position for the Community Services Department — $105,000
» Increased funding for county libraries — $397,739
» Funding for homeless shelter operations and warming centers to maintain service levels — $45,000 and $25,000, respectively
» Funding County Fire Station 11’s Engine 11 (three positions) that serves western Goleta — $1.5 million
» Funding County Fire Station 22 in Orcutt — $411,300
» Funding County Fire management incentive — $96,800
» Raises for unrepresented management employees — $860,000
» Planning and Development work for the Hollister Avenue and State Street streetscapes — $67,000
» Planning and Development long-range planning project work — $200,000
» Public Works plastic bag ban ordinance — $35,000
» SBCC Small Business Development Centers — $27,000
» A financial systems analyst position — $149,183
» An increase to the road maintenance fund — $2 million
Ever-increasing salary and benefit costs are hugely contributing to the widening gap between revenues and costs, Wallar said. The average cost per safety employee has risen 40 percent since the 2008-09 year, from $117,600 to $164,600 projected for the 2014-15 year.
Non-safety employee costs increased 21 percent over the same period, from an average of $97,900 to $118,500 per employee.
Board items that were added into the budget on Friday were funded on an ongoing basis or with one-time money, including reserves. The strategic reserve has a balance of about $28.5 million, which is above the minimum required.
More than 60 percent of the county’s general fund money is spent on public safety — sheriff, fire, probation, courts and district attorney — which will increase once the North County Jail is completed and fully staffed, Wallar said.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said the board has approved a 57 percent increase in public safety funding over the past 10 years, and he and his colleagues believe it should be the county’s first priority.
Carbajal said he would not vote for any proposal that made the strategic reserves drop below the standard required, but “it’s OK to dip into it a little bit.”
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said the county needs to come up with new strategies to raise revenues and become more efficient.
Even though he may not end up voting for it, he said the county should consider increasing its transient-occupancy or bed-tax rate, since the effects are felt by visitors and not local residents.
“I don’t think anybody wanting to come to Montecito to stay at one of our plush resorts worries about what our TOT is,” he said.
He also supported fully funding the county’s “sales team” — the many conference and visitor bureaus — as did the other supervisors.
Lavagnino wanted to cut the $1 million given to the Children’s Healthcare Initiative, which provides insurance to undocumented children.
It’s an admirable cause, but it should be funded by private donors, not taxpayers, he said. He recognized that other board members didn’t feel the same way, and the issue wasn’t voted on.
Everyone — regardless of resident status — is cared for at the county’s Public Health clinics, which will continue, but he supports eliminating the insurance funding.
Adam proposed adding $8.5 million to the county’s road maintenance fund, but had no support at that level.
The board approved raises for unrepresented management employees, who haven’t received an increase since 2008, at a cost of $860,000 per year.
“We’re losing good people,” Farr said, adding that there have also been morale issues.
Wolf advised against adding new programs or expanding funding, but wanted to give funding back to departments that were cut back in recent years.
“Our safety net has been severely damaged and we’re now at a point where we can start to sew it up and strengthen it,” she said.
She did argue — again — against switching the Juvenile Justice Mental Health program from county staff over to a private company on contract, and the board agreed to make a final decision on that issue next week.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to experiment with our children,” she said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to dismantle a program in our Juvenile Hall that we know is working.”
The board is expected to examine the Corizon company contract at Tuesday’s board meeting, at the County Administration Building at 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.