No Easy Options in City Budget

The operative cliches at the financial powwow hosted by Santa Barbara City Administrator Jim Armstrong last week were “The wolf is very much at the door” and “When it comes to possible cuts, everything is on the table.” Armstrong told City Council members and department heads that they must slash $6.3 million- $8.3 million from the city’s general fund, which Armstrong anticipates will be $9.5 million short in the fiscal year beginning this July. This drastic shortfall represents 10 percent the city’s general fund. The Police Department has been charged with finding cuts of $1.3 million-$1.7 million-the equivalent of 10-12 sworn officers-while the Fire Department is looking to cut $771,884-$1.1 million-the equivalent of 10 firefighters. (Relatively speaking, these departments got off easy; taking a much harder hit proportional to its actual budget, Parks & Recreation is looking at a hit of $1.2 million-$1.6 million.) The presidents of the unions representing police officers and firefighters-Sgt. Charles McChesney and Tony Pighetti, respectively-have both cautioned that such cuts would undermine the safety of firefighters, police officers, and city residents. Proposed cuts remain tentative, but among those discussed were “rolling blackouts” at city firehouses during which various station houses would be closed one day a week. Police programs such as DARE, PAL, and bar patrol might be at risk, as would the “bunkhouse” occasionally provided for out-of-town officers. The 75-minute free-parking period at city garages would be eliminated. Quietly mentioned were holidays such as Fiesta, Solstice, and the Fourth of July, all of which require expensive police presence. Armstrong and city Financial Director Rob Pierson also outlined some plans to increase revenues, but these involved tax hikes that would require a vote of city residents. Some councilmembers, such as Das Williams, expressed an eagerness to conduct a poll to determine how much public support there might be for such tax increases in lieu of cuts.

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