Despite strong disagreement from two of the supervisors as well as community members, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Wednesday to spend $1 million from the county’s General Fund in a quest to decrease the number of uninsured children in the county. While this is only a start - the money will go toward helping 742 out of an estimated 16,000 uninsured children - those who voted for it said the time to begin aiding these county residents is now.
The issue had twice before come before the board. At both previous discussions, the supervisors voted to continue the matter in order to get more information. But Supervisor Salud Carbajal claimed he had all the information he needed and was ready for a move to be made. “There’s a lot of hurting children out there,” he explained.
Carbajal initially made a motion to take $220,000 from interest accrued through tobacco settlement (TSAC) reserve money, along with $80,000 from actual TSAC reserve funds - as opposed to the interest. The remaining $700,000 would come from the General Fund. Andy Caldwell, executive director of COLAB (Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business), spoke loudly and authoritatively when he told the supervisors that they could not afford these expenditures at this point in time. He called the action a “gimmick” and a cheap solution. “Let’s make some hard decisions instead of borrowing against our future,” he said.
Caldwell was followed by Sister Janet Corcoran from Marian Medical Center, who, along with Caldwell is a regular at the board meetings. But Corcoran had a much different view. “A budget is a moral document, a moral document that puts people before the numbers,” she said. “One child without healthcare is one too many:the reserves are set up for a rainy day. Supervisors, that rainy day has come.” Supervisor Janet Wolf, supportive of giving the $1 million, nonetheless agreed with Caldwell that using TSAC funds might be a gimmick.
Carbajal then followed Wolf’s statements by making a motion to take the entire $1 million from the General Fund. Supervisors Joni Gray and Brooks Firestone dissented. It was the first major decision made by the board as it mulls over a budget with $757.9 million in recommended expenditures. With what could turn out to be more than $6 million shortfalls from the current fiscal year still yet to surface, County Executive Officer Mike Brown was recommending to the board that they wait on a decision until the fall. He said after the meeting it was a straight public policy decision, and said he was “fine” with the decision. “They’ve studied it and heard all the arguments,” he said.
Firestone couldn’t go along with the vote because of a “somewhat troubling” financial situation. “We don’t know the numbers we don’t know the costs, we don’t know the escalation of the costs of it,” he said. “We don’t have the funds to cover this.”
Supervisor Joni Gray cited $650,000 needed to fund a CARES program in North County as well as state seismic mandates for hospitals as possible higher priorities than pouring money into a new $1 million program, for which Firestone pointed out that $150,000 would be for overhead expenses. And as the program grows, it could begin to cost the county between $8 and $12 million, Firestone argued, with no way for the county to get out of the cost. He preferred following Brown’s recommendation to wait until fall, when the supervisors might have a better idea of whether or not the state or federal governments will step to the plate with programs.
Paving the way for Friday’s deliberations, the board also got some easy decisions out of the way Wednesday, authorizing ten new deputy positions in the sheriff’s department and three positions in the clerk’s office for the February primary election, all of which are subject to funding being available.