County officials may have balanced their budget last Friday while also restoring many of the hot-ticket items that were on the chopping block, but more danger is looming down the road, and the job won’t be getting easier anytime soon.
Friday’s final decision put the board stamp of approval on an $828.1-million budget document for the 2012-2013 fiscal year (which begins July 1), while at the same time restoring roughly $6.1 million in programs, including the Human Services Commission and positions for Veterans’ Services. However, boardmembers indicated they didn’t want to see those programs, along with the reinstated truancy program and the Pro Pay program (a county payee service), show up as potential budget cuts next year. “We need to fund that, and we need to permanently fund it,” 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf said of Human Services.
- The Fire Department’s Station 11 and Station 22 ($2.2 million)
- Ongoing maintenance of the El Embarcadero corridor in Isla Vista after loss of RDA funds ($1 million)
- One mechanic, two plumbers, and a water and sewage plant operator in the Community Services Department ($309,000)
- Contracted acute inpatient psychiatric beds at Vista Del Mar for Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services ($216,000)
- Funding for the Conference and Visitors Bureau and Film Commission ($195,000)
- An agricultural biologist ($88,000)
- One position in the Clerk of the Board’s office ($50,000)
- Emergency shelter services ($45,000)
- Staffing to keep Guadalupe Dunes open ($23,000)
- Funding for an environmental impact report on a plastic-bag ban ($8,000)
The emphasis again this year was on public safety, a priority the board has made clear over the years. County CEO Chandra Wallar pointed out that 47 percent of the 2002-2003 budget was dedicated to public safety, while public safety funding made up 64 percent of this year’s budget.
The supervisors used $9 million in ongoing program reductions and $16 million in one-time solutions to close this year’s gap.
According to data, the average employee costs the county $124,000 a year — that’s $30,000 in retirement benefits, $8,000 in insurance benefits, along with $86,000 in salaries. The number is down from last year’s $128,000. Those current salary and benefit levels are not sustainable, Wallar said, despite the fact that the county has eliminated 550 positions since 2007-2008.
The county faces “ongoing and unparalleled challenges,” as Wallar put it, and there are “still many difficult years ahead of us,” she said.
County officials are already anticipating an $18-million to $20-million budget deficit to keep county services at the status quo next fiscal year. There are many ongoing issues: The impacts of the state budget (especially if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure doesn’t pass in November), funding a new North County Jail, and other capital improvement projects that have been left behind because there’s no money to work on them.
That’s not even mentioning where the county currently sits after several consecutive years of cuts. Already, the service levels for many county programs have been reduced to the minimum levels mandated by law. In cases where there is no legal mandate, core county services have been eliminated.
“We have to search out revenue,” said 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray. Next week, the supervisors will have a look at a proposed program that could promote the construction of luxury hotels in the county when they will be considering the hotel incentive program. Under the program, the county would forego hotel bed taxes for a period of time as an incentive for luxury hotel owners to build. The idea, proposed by Miramar Hotel owner Rick Caruso, would get sales and property tax going for the county on properties that currently generate little of both while sacrificing — for a time — bed taxes the county would normally receive.