The big winner in this year’s budget deliberations at Santa Barbara City Hall was clearly the Parks and Recreation Department — much reduced during what’s now referred to as the Great Recession — but drawing the most attention during Monday’s special city council session were a couple of big-ticket items designed to make residents and tourists visiting downtown feel safe around the homeless. The council voted to add yet another sworn officer to the Santa Barbara Police Department’s roster — at a cost of $150,000 a year — bringing the total to 143. In addition, the council set aside $150,000 to hire two private security personnel whose function would be to patrol State Street and deter obnoxious behavior by younger street people. Sergeant Mike McGrew, representing the Police Officers Association, urged the council not to contract out such services and warned councilmembers that they will find themselves on the hook for “millions of dollars” if poorly trained private security personnel triggered lawsuits down the road. “There’s nothing like a cop,” agreed Councilmember Randy Rowse.
With cash registers ringing and real estate values increasing, City Hall found itself $1 million more flush than initially expected. The council agreed to allocate an extra $53,000 for juvenile jobs programs targeting at-risk teens as well as $100,000 for new playground equipment at East Beach and $75,000 to replace the grass at Bohnett Park’s soccer field with synthetic turf. Another $25,000 will go to designing a new playground near the city’s tennis courts on Old Coast Highway. City finance czar Bob Samario said Santa Barbara’s coffers were much fuller than expected because hotel owners were reaping the whirlwind of unseasonably good weather, yielding four months last year in which bed-tax revenues came in at least 20 percent higher than the previous year. Likewise, he said property taxes are on the rise, indicating that recent assessments will yield an increase of 4.5 percent in revenues, well above the 2 percent expected.