The council won’t have to squint hard to find $450,000 needed to pay for the additional three “phantom” police officer positions authorized, but not funded, in this year’s budget. Thanks to an increase in sales tax and bed tax revenues and beyond what was anticipated, the City of Santa Barbara has more than $1.5 million in newfound reserves.
Prior to this discovery, it appeared the new positions would have to be paid for by cutting other departments. Councilmember Dale Francisco pushed to include the unfunded positions into the budget at the last minute, and with the exception of Councilmember Grant House, the rest of the council agreed. By so doing, Francisco — now running for reelection — could boast that the council, under his direction, had voted to increase the number of officers on the force for the first time in 10 years. If the council ultimately votes to dip into the new reserves to fund the positions, the department will soon have 141 sworn officers. Ten years ago, 150 were authorized.
The additional funds at City Hall, while good news, pose an awkward windfall. This past year, public employee unions made wage and benefit concessions worth $4 million to ease Santa Barbara’s chronic budget crunch. Now, the unions will have reason to wonder whether they gave up too much. City officials insist the windfall should be regarded as a one-time blessing, and caution that the economic struggles transpiring in Europe could trigger a double-dip recession in the United States.