The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors discussed how to spend the last $38 million of its federal COVID-19 federal relief funds during Thursday’s budget workshop, where the County Executive Office recommended spending a large portion of it on the public safety radio network replacement project.
The current system for 9-1-1 emergency calls and interagency communications is no longer supported for parts or updates, and a complete replacement will cost about $30 million, according to the County Executive Office. The $17.6 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding would be added to $12 million in debt service to pay for the project.
The Board of Supervisors has been reviewing budget presentations from county departments this week for its $1.4 billion 2022-23 budget, and on Thursday, specifically talked about how to spend the rest of its American Rescue Plan Act money.
They are expected to make final decisions and adopt a budget in June.
Santa Barbara County received $86.7 million in ARPA funding from the federal government and has already spent most of it on COVID-19 response-related costs, capital improvement projects, and health and human services.
Staff propose using more of it on the radio network project, health and human services funding, and some one-time maintenance or capital projects, including HVAC upgrades.
County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato has continually cautioned against using one-time funding for ongoing costs, but supervisors seem to be considering doing that for the next fiscal year as they look at the millions of dollars of available ARPA funding and lack of unallocated, ongoing general fund money.
Specifically, supervisors are interested in funding more employee positions for the District Attorney and Public Defender offices to work on the backlog of court cases because of COVID-19-related closures.
It would be creating a funding cliff a few years out, Miyasato said, since the money for those additional positions has not been included in five-year financial forecasts.
Click here to read an overview of next year’s budget and the Behavioral Wellness Department’s plans.
Click here to read about increasing Sheriff’s Office custody costs with the Northern Branch Jail opening.
Supervisors in 2014 approved a maintenance funding policy to dedicate 18% of unallocated revenues to maintenance work because of the intimidating amount of unfunded deferred maintenance in the county.
The backlog is hundreds of millions of dollars large, but it’s growing more slowly now, several years into that funding policy, according to county budget staff.
A ballot measure to force the county to maintain its infrastructure at the same or better condition, to stop the deferred maintenance backlog from getting worse, narrowly failed in 2014. Then this policy was adopted by the supervisors.
The 18% maintenance funding policy is contributing an estimated $11.8 million toward the county’s overall maintenance budget of $24.8 million for 2022-23.
The maintenance money is split between Public Works (roads), General Services (facilities) and parks.
To keep the county roads maintained at a pavement condition index of 58 (fair), it would cost about $14.4 million a year, according to Public Works. Next year, the county budgeted $11.3 million, for a deferred maintenance addition of $3.1 million.
It costs $20,000 to $100,000 per lane mile to do preventive maintenance, which is usually a thin coat on the surface and takes less preparation time, according to Public Works staff.
In contrast, it costs between $250,000 and $300,000 per lane mile to do rehabilitative maintenance, which takes a lot longer and requires “grinding out failures” and repaving.
The department has tried to stretch its dollars by pursuing grants and partnerships for projects, including the Obern Trail bike and pedestrian path paving and light replacement; paving 2 miles of path in Montecito with the Bucket Brigade; and adding pedestrian sidewalks in some parts of Isla Vista through a funding partnership with UC Santa Barbara.
“Maintenance isn’t sexy,” but by investing more money the county is able to maintain its assets now, Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson said. “As we’ve seen with PCI (pavement condition index), as it begins to rise, the actual cost to maintain it starts to lower.”
Nelson worked as chief of staff for his predecessor on the board, Peter Adam, who advocated for county maintenance funding and the failed infrastructure-funding ballot measure.
— Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.