Local businesses heard updates from Santa Barbara County leaders Wednesday afternoon on issues affecting the county — such as homelessness, the budget and economy, and more — during the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the County event.

The Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce presented the event in partnership with all of the chambers of commerce in the county — the Buellton Chamber of Commerce, the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Santa Ynez Chamber and the Solvang Chamber of Commerce.

Speakers included Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, Santa Barbara County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato and UCSB Economic Forecast Project Director Peter Rupert.

Hartmann provided updates on the county’s approaches to homelessness, housing, broadband and renewable energy.

She spoke on the county’s community action plan to address homelessness, which was adopted in 2021.

“With regional coordination, a detailed plan, targeted investment of [American Rescue Plan Act] funds, and more than our share of grants — and I think that comes from the unprecedented coordination we’ve had — we are making a difference,” Hartmann said. “Just two weeks ago, for instance, the county was awarded $5.1 million from HUD, one of only 17 communities throughout the nation to get such a grant, and it was to focus on homelessness among youth.”

She added that the plan targets three main demographics — unhoused veterans, families with children, and transitional-age youths — and since 2020, homelessness in each demographic has declined.

Another part of the plan is a three-year encampment resolution strategy.

“This is among the county’s highest priorities,” Hartmann said. “The caveat is this: We need additional housing opportunities to prevent people from falling out of housing as fast as we’re getting them in housing. We’re going to need dedicated, ongoing funding from the state and federal government because ARPA and grants aren’t going to do it in the long run.”

Hartmann also spoke about the county’s broadband strategic plan and its efforts to increase Internet access for everyone to “promote digital equity,” as well as Central Coast Community Energy’s efforts to provide 100% clean, renewable energy by 2030 — 15 years ahead of the state’s goal.

“The county is actively working with the base, San Luis Obispo County and the City of Morro Bay to determine how to make the region a renewable energy hub,” Hartmann said. “The Central Coast has the greenlight from the federal government to develop wind energy off the coast of Morro Bay.”

Miyasato provided updates on the county’s population, budget, and tax revenues.

According to Miyasato, Santa Maria remains the largest city population-wise with 109,910 residents, 25% of the county’s population. Santa Barbara follows with 86,591 residents, 19% of the county’s population.

The county has $1.42 billion in operating revenues, with most funding coming from local taxes, charges for services, and state and federal revenues.

For the 2022-23 fiscal year, the county is projected to make approximately $16.9 million in transient occupancy taxes, with Montecito providing 64% of the county’s TOT revenues — the highest unincorporated generator area for Santa Barbara County.

Miyasato said unincorporated areas are projected to bring in approximately $16 million in local sales tax revenue for the county in 2022-23 and approximately $9.8 million in cannabis tax revenue.

Miyasato added that revenue from the cannabis tax has funded projects throughout the county such as libraries, alternative energy projects, improvements to parks and roads, housing and homeless programs, enhancement of the child abuse reporting system, community equity and inclusion efforts, and many more.

“If it weren’t for [cannabis tax] revenue, we wouldn’t have been expanding and doing more for these things,” Miyasato said. “We wouldn’t have been able to fund these things unless we cut somewhere else in the county’s budget.”

Meanwhile, Rupert discussed economics within the United States, and explained how, despite increasing inflation, current evidence says we are not in a recession right now.

Housing declines are being seen across the nation, as well as mortgage rate increases and price increases that Rupert said are unsustainable.

Coming out of the pandemic, the labor market and demand for tourism have returned to their pre-pandemic levels, and Santa Barbara County remains strong, Rupert said.

Noozhawk staff writer Serena Guentz can be reached at {encode=”sguentz@noozhawk.com” title=”sguentz@noozhawk.com”}. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.