Grim and Grimmer

The cumulative effect of nonstop budget-cutting took a visible toll on Santa Barbara City councilmembers and department heads during a five-hour discussion on future fiscal bloodletting Tuesday afternoon. “If I wasn’t depressed after the Fire [Department] presentation, I’m getting there,” exclaimed Councilmember Das Williams after hearing Parks and Recreation chief Nancy Rapp explain how she intends to cut another $1.4 million from her department next year after having just hacked $1.5 million away from this year’s budget. That’s a 31-percent reduction over two years. By a cruel coincidence of budgetary math, Rapp explained, the department can realize the greatest savings by cutting programs targeting poor, underserved, and at-risk youth. Speaking shortly before Rapp, Fire Chief Andy DiMizio had outlined his plans to save $900,000 next year by temporarily closing one of the city’s many fire stations, trimming the number of firefighters assigned to ladder trucks from four to three, and cutting three positions. Councilmember Helene Schneider termed DiMizio’s proposal “dismal,” adding, “I’m never going there.” Councilmember Iya Falcone was even more adamant, arguing that public safety departments shouldn’t have to take any cuts at all. “I’ll fight for you,” she vowed. Police Chief Cam Sanchez said to cut $500,000, his department might be forced to transfer the officers now assigned to such popular programs as DARE, PAL, and beat coordination to patrol. Meanwhile, the downtown and Eastside libraries are poised to lock their doors every Monday.

The council spent much of this past summer figuring out how to bridge a $10.5-million budget shortfall. Within a month, however, City Hall discovered that the new budget-for fiscal year 2010-was leaking to the tune of $3 million. Last Thursday, the council spent most of the day deliberating over bridging that gap. If current economic realities continue, city officials are already projecting a $5-million shortfall for the upcoming year, which was the focus of Tuesday’s deliberations. Councilmember Williams expressed vexation that City Administrator Jim Armstrong provided no revenue-raising options, such as taxing medicinal marijuana or single-use bags. Any new forms of taxation, however, must be approved by city voters. Placement on the ballot requires a unanimous vote by the City Council.

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