As individuals from diverse perspectives who care deeply about Santa Barbara County, we strongly urge a “No” vote on Measure M.
Measure M is an $18 million-$36 million-per-year unfunded mandate that will deteriorate our way of life in many possible ways, including more taxes, higher fees, and fewer services for the people of Santa Barbara County. The county has a general fund budget of roughly $220 million; Measure M could consume as much as 16 percent of the county general fund budget — nearly one dollar in every six dollars the county spends.
The proposed measure is to maintain roads and buildings. Though these improvements may be desired, Measure M would spend county money without providing funding. The lack of new funding means the remaining county budget will be devastated and our quality of life will get worse. Significant cuts will have to be made across the board in county services to make up the difference. The results will be all or some of the following:
• Higher taxes and more county fees
• Reductions in services in every county department
• Fewer law enforcement personnel and more criminals on the streets
• Reductions in the number of firefighters
These are only some of the cuts the county could experience. Cuts to law enforcement and public safety would include cuts in the Sheriff’s Office, Fire Department, emergency medical services, and 9-1-1.
Vital services would be cut, including those that support working families, seniors, children, students, those most in need, and those most vulnerable.
Library services could be cut out entirely. County parks and other facilities could be closed. Though these cuts would be experienced by everyone in the county, Measure M would not provide additional funding for the more than two-thirds of county residents who live in cities.
More than 500 positions have already been eliminated from county government in recent years, and more than $70 million in cuts have already been made in almost every department, service, and program. Simply put, Measure M would be very bad news for Santa Barbara County.
We continue to ask, “Where would the money come from?” The measure’s author has said that the county “may have a bake sale, or liquidate property, or put a tax on the ballot.” We believe this approach is unrealistic and leads to more questions than answers.
About 60 percent of county spending is for public safety — should expenditures on public safety be slashed to pay for Measure M?
What about other county spending? Law and justice are about 14 percent of total county spending — there are not many opportunities for cuts in those areas. Health and public assistance are about 9 percent of county spending — that’s already down from 13 percent in 2002-03. Public health services are vital and have already been cut too much.
Similarly, other areas of spending by the county are relatively modest as a proportion of the county budget and have been substantially reduced in recent years. Measure M would cause further wide-scale elimination of positions, programs, and services.
Looking to the future, it is essential to begin setting aside more than $15 million per year for operating the new county jail in northern Santa Barbara County. How would the county fund the new jail, pay for Measure M, and address its other fiscal challenges? Many one-time sources of revenue and reserves have been used in recent years. Now is not the time for an uncertain and unfunded mandate to spend $18 million-$36 million more per year — funds the county does not have to spare.
And what if there is another economic downturn or funds are required to alleviate water shortages throughout the county? Measure M is as fiscally irresponsible as a measure can be.
Opposing Measure M should unite residents of Santa Barbara County across the political spectrum and in northern and southern Santa Barbara County. This proposal would be very detrimental to the county’s finances, our quality of life, our future. Please join us in voting “No” on Measure M.
Bill Brown is sheriff of Santa Barbara County; Salud Carbajal is 1st District supervisor; Joyce Dudley is district attorney of Santa Barbara County; Lanny Ebenstein is past president of the Santa Barbara Board of Education; Joni Gray is former 4th District supervisor; and Janet Wolf is 2nd District Supervisor.