He might have said he was all for compromise, but Peter Adam didn’t really show it during county budget discussions last week. The supervisor representing the most conservative of the County of Santa Barbara’s five districts continued on his warpath of stubbornness, refusing to vote to approve the $844.5 million document, explaining he didn’t think the budget went far enough to fund basic maintenance functions.
Still, his vigorous pursuit of paying for deferred maintenance projects led to the other supervisors approving an additional $2 million to the road fund. That number is well below the $8.5 million Public Works staff say is needed to keep road upkeep at status quo levels, but — even if he didn’t acknowledge it — it was a battle won by Adam, who over the last six months has made deferred maintenance of county roads and buildings his rallying cry, pushing for a plan to resolve the hundreds of millions of dollars in outstanding work, even if it comes at the expense of other county programs. “The conversation is out there,” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino of the issue. “We’re talking about it a lot.”
Aside from pitching in money to save an Orcutt fire post and money to help save the 4-H Youth Development Program, Adam wasn’t interested in any other adjustments to the budget. “We didn’t get where we’re supposed to go,” he said. “We’re still being irresponsible with this deferred maintenance issue.” So without Adam’s vote, the other four supervisors passed the budget, set to take effect July 1. Overall, the county’s budget is beginning to stabilize, after years of hits.
This year’s financial plan comes just a few cycles removed from a $72 million deficit, and a $15 million deficit last year. And the supervisors were able to find ways to restore some items scheduled to be cut while keeping their strategic reserve — the rainy-day fund — at $28.6 million. Restorations included Fire Engine 11 in Goleta, $200,000 for the Conference and Visitors Bureau, and $398,000 for county libraries.
“Since I’ve been on the board, it’s been one difficult budget year after another,” 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr said.
The number of county employees sits at around 3,890, nearly 600 less than there were in 2007-2008. “Since I’ve been on the board, it’s been one difficult budget year after another,” 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr said. Still, she continued, estimates for property tax are up, permit activity is increasing, and the county has maintained an excellent credit rating.
Among the $7.13 million in restorations was compensation for county managers, who haven’t received wage increases since 2008. That means 274 managers will receive a 3 percent raise for a total of $1.4 million. After some state and federal reimbursements, however, the cost to the county will be $860,000. “We’re losing good people,” Farr said of the effect of not increasing pay over the last five years.
Without Adam, the four others agreed to fund homeless shelter operations and a warming center, and they also poured money back into beds for inpatients being treated by Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services. “I’m fiscally conservative, but I don’t think you can be in this job very long without becoming socially aware of the services we provide,” Lavagnino said, noting the county’s psychiatric health facilities work with foster children and the jails.
Lavagnino said the county has to come up with new strategies to generate revenue. He said it would be worth talking about a potential increase to the county’s bed tax, an idea he put forth last year, but it failed to garner enough support with the board. He also said they should take a look at how to make more money at Lake Cachuma, build the new Miramar Hotel, and expand oil operations.
With retirement costs continuing to hamper the county, as well as the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the construction and operation of the County Jail on the horizon, the county still has to tread carefully into the future.