Balancing Act

City Bridges $9 Million Shortfall

The Santa Barbara City Council passed an officially balanced budget this Tuesday, bridging a $9-million shortfall with the aid of $2 million in smoke and mirrors. That’s roughly the amount of wage and benefit concessions city negotiators are still hoping to exact from the unions representing city police officers and firefighters. Without such concessions, the delicate balancing act achieved during months of intense number crunching will come undone.

The Police Officers Association (POA) contract with S.B. City Hall expires at the end of this week, but the POA has put negotiations on hold until its consultant — hired to pore over the city’s books for rainy-day funds that have been squirreled away — submits his final analysis. City negotiators want at least $1 million worth of concessions from the cops, but the police are looking to give no more than $680,000, if anything at all. Other unions, like Service Employees International Union, gave up a 6-percent cut in pay in exchange for no layoffs.

In the meantime, councilmembers restored many of the cuts initially proposed. The Sobering Center, which holds drunks who would otherwise have to be transported to county jail — at an annualized cost equivalent to one full-time officer — was spared the $211,000 in cuts that would have completely eliminated the service. Likewise, swimmer Monica Jones advocated quietly and effectively to keep the free summer swims open at Ortega Pool — at a cost of $2,300 — which serves hundreds of low-income kids. Councilmember Das Williams lobbied to resume bathroom cleaning services at four park bathrooms that have been shut since January 1. The council also restored the Fire Department’s Training Captain position, slated for elimination, as well as four of the seven police-department positions that had been left vacant the past year. This brings the number of authorized sworn officers down to 137 from 140.

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