The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors will make final decisions this week for the 2017-2018 budget, which will include escalating pension costs and laying off 60 or so Department of Social Services staff members.

County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato told Noozhawk the proposed $1.07 billion balanced budget strikes a balance between making the necessary reductions, fulfilling the county’s needs and planning for the future.

Board priorities are funded, including the Northern Branch Jail (expected to open in 2019), pension payments, paying down unfunded pension liabilities, and keeping reserves at a strategic level.

The recommended budget does cut into the reserve funds, bringing it below the goal of 8 percent, to make matching funds for some emergency storm damage repairs, Miyasato said.

While the recession was obviously a big hit to pension investments, the five-year increase in costs the county is now facing is mostly due to a change in assumptions, according to county officials.

The Santa Barbara County Employees’ Retirement System thinks the rate of return will be more like 7 percent, not 7.5 percent, so the county will end up paying more into the system for an estimated five years before the contribution rates level off.

The county is paying an additional $7.3 million in pension costs next year, Miyasato said, and plans to reopen labor negotiations, specifically regarding pensions, in the fall.

Contributions are expected to drop around 2030 because of the two-tier employee-benefit system: Newer employees get lower levels of benefits under the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act, which started in 2013, Miyasato said.

Overall salary and benefit costs have been steadily increasing over the last 10 years, and the total number of full-time-equivalent employees in next year’s budget is back to the 2008 level. The cost-per-employee average for next year is $139,687 — a 6.2-increase from the current year.

The Department of Social Services’ staffing will be hit hard next year. County officials say 60-70 people will receive layoff notices because of state funding impacts to programs, including CalFresh, California’s version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, and CalWORKS, a welfare program for eligible needy families.

Santa Barbara County’s per-employee pension costs have almost doubled since 2008.

Santa Barbara County’s per-employee pension costs have almost doubled since 2008. (Santa Barbara County illustration)

The county’s caseloads for those and similar programs are increasing while the statewide trend is going down, so the county is bumping up to and beyond the reimbursement cap, officials say.

People will notice the impacts in longer processing times for applications, Miyasato said.

Next year’s budget will fund the 18-percent rule adopted by the Board of Supervisors: 18 percent of unallocated discretionary general fund money goes to maintenance.

Money for infrastructure projects comes out of a lot of different pots, but the 18-percent rule was meant to give extra money to the long list of deferred maintenance needs — many of which were delayed further during the recession years.

The 18-percent rule means $3 million for next year, in addition to another $3.4 million planned in one-time money and a few million dollars more from other areas.

The county’s largest capital project is under construction now: the Northern Branch Jail near Santa Maria.

With state and matching local funding, the construction is expected to finish next year with occupancy of the 376-bed facility planned for spring 2019.

The per-employee cost for Santa Barbara County has been increasing over the last 10 years.

The per-employee cost for Santa Barbara County has been increasing over the last 10 years. (Santa Barbara County illustration)

The last estimate of annual operating costs for the facility was $18 million, not counting the costs to continue operating the Main Jail at 4436 Calle Real in Santa Barbara. Both jails will need to be open at the same time since the jail population has been over 376 people for decades.

The supervisors have been contributing an increasing amount of money each year to the jail operating fund, and will be putting $9.1 million into the fund next year.

The plan is to do some overdue rehabilitation work in the old Main Jail building once the new one opens and some areas can be closed down. The county expects to draw up some plans and cost estimates for that work next year.

The Board of Supervisors will start budget deliberations at 9 a.m. Monday at the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St. Members of the public can attend and comment in person, comment remotely from the county building in Santa Maria, at 511 E. Lakeside Parkway, or watch live online,

If the supervisors don’t make all their decisions on Monday, hearings will continue Wednesday and Friday as needed.

Click here for summaries of the recommended budget for each department and fund.

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

The number of Santa Barbara County’s full-time-equivalent employees is expected to be 4,213 for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

The number of Santa Barbara County’s full-time-equivalent employees is expected to be 4,213 for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.  (Santa Barbara County illustration)

Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com.