During this week’s budget hearings, the county supervisors swiftly reviewed every county department and passed a $1 billion budget. For the fourth year, Supervisor Peter Adam was the sole vote against it. He complained the county continuously fails to adequately fund road and infrastructure repairs. Unlike his colleagues — who said the budget reflected their priorities — Adam argued he had “a fundamental disagreement that this is a balanced budget.”
“I know everyone else disagrees,” he said.
This year, the process was less “painful,” as Supervisor Salud Carbajal put it, compared to the recession years when the county was $72 million in the hole. Carbajal, who noted he has participated in 24 budget hearings as a county staffer and then as a supervisor, added, “I think today we are in a point where we can say we are resilient.”
The hearing ended with applause and a standing ovation — from a packed board hearing room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building — for Carbajal and Supervisor Doreen Farr, both stepping down at the end of this term. Adam, who was up for reelection, won 70 percent of the 4th District vote in last week’s election.
Among the highlights of this year’s budget:
The supervisors allocated $243,000 to set up a capital fund for mental health beds.
“I really believe that it’s time now that we put our money where our mouth is,” said Supervisor Janet Wolf, using a cliché repeated a few times during the two-day hearings.
The budget hearing is the one time of the year the board majority needs just three votes to make a sizable financial decision. For now, the capital fund is a placeholder. At a hearing in early August, Behavior Wellness Director Alice Gleghorn will return to the board with more specifics.
The supes set aside $951,000 to keep the Santa Maria branch jail operating. In the past year, the jail was shut down for a total of 37 hours, according to the department. Sheriff Bill Brown once suggested closing down the small holding facility to save money, but now it will remain open next year. In addition, the supervisors approved 15 new deputies — $1.3 million from Northern Branch jail operations funds — starting October 2016. Until the new North County jail is open, they will be used as shift relief for deputies at the Main Jail. On June 21, the supervisors will be accepting the construction bids on the proposed jail — which came in $11 million over budget. The supervisors also allocated $75,000 in ongoing funds for a sheriff service technician.
For the fourth year, Adam, the most conservative member of the board, went to great lengths to stress the county’s deferred maintenance backlog, which is $334 million in its entirety. Prior to the hearing, Adam requested — via board inquiry form — that Public Works department head Scott McGolpin draft a chart demonstrating how much has been spent on road maintenance since 2007. “The reason I wrote the [board inquiry form] is because there is a statement in [the budget materials] that we are spending more money on maintenance, and that’s just not true.”
The chart shows less money is proposed to be spent on surface treatment, bridge repairs, drainage, storm damage repair, etc. But the other supervisors objected that the way the question was worded made the chart misleading. The county has actually been spending more general fund money on infrastructure maintenance, but less money has been coming from the state.
Of the overreach of the question, Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said, “This is like asking, ‘If we let everybody out of jail at once … .’”
The other three supervisors conveyed similar irritation. “I was really hoping we’d conclude this budget hearing without talking about PCI,” Wolf added, referring to the Pavement Condition Index. She asked pointedly why they weren’t asking about FCI (Foster Care Index) or LI (Library Index).
The issue of road repair has formed a wedge between Adam and the other four supervisors. Two years ago, after Adam’s controversial maintenance measure — Measure M — was narrowly defeated, the county supervisors voted to squirrel away 18 percent of revenue growth each year for 10 years — or about $100 million over a decade. But Adam contended the offer wasn’t good enough, and voted against it.
“The point is still we are not putting more money into it,” Adam said Wednesday. “You can’t tell people we are.”
Environmental/Wage Theft Attorney in the DA Office
Earlier this year, CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) advocated for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties to adopt a so-called Farmworker Bill of Rights, but have yet to get any traction. Critics took issue with a report the group published that claimed egregious working conditions in the fields were commonplace. Among many things, CAUSE called for a new position to be added in the District Attorney’s Office to focus on crimes committed against workers.
Carbajal — who has been endorsed by the CAUSE Action Fund for his congressional bid — thanked Maricela Morales, the executive director of CAUSE, for bringing the issue to their attention.
This new position in the DA’s Office, now an ongoing $160,000 item in the budget, will also focus on environmental crime. District Attorney Joyce Dudley said the department previously had an environmental attorney, but the position was cut in 2010. Now, Dudley said, environmental prosecutions are filed with her office but aren’t prosecuted because they don’t have the resources to do so.
Community Choice Energy
Following pleas from several environmentalists, who touted the sustainability and economic vitality of Community Choice Energy, the supes agreed to spend $95,000 on Phase II of the program. Last year, the county supervisors paid for a study to examine the advantages and the risks of Community Choice Energy, which sets up an agency — a collaboration of counties and cities — to purchase or produce electricity for customers. According to county staff, the program has proven successful in many counties. The findings of the study will return to the board in the fall.
North County Gang Prevention Task Force
The supervisors allocated $75,000 for a task force on gang prevention in North County. In roughly one year, Santa Maria saw 19 homicides — 15 of which were gang-related. Earlier this year, the Santa Maria police announced the arrests of 16 people believed to be connected to Mara Salvaturcha, the transnational gang known as MS-13. The supervisors also gave the DA’s Office $300,000 to support the prosecution efforts of the multi-defendant murder case.
Outside Agency Requests
Through the process one observer likened to speed dating, the supervisors faced a number of pleas for extra funding or outside agencies. The following organizations were given onetime funds: Transition House ($50,000), PATH (People Assisting the Homeless, which took over Casa Esperanza) ($50,000), Community Action Commission ($50,000), Good Samaritan ($50,000), Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center ($20,000), Buellton Senior Center ($15,000), Americorps ($10,000), New Beginnings ($10,000), and the Solvang Senior Center ($4,000).
Wolf expressed discontent with the supervisors’ practice of funding outside agencies. She voiced frustration with the fact the county allocates (in total) hundreds of thousands of dollars to outside agencies — particularly the several homeless providers — without input from county departments. “This process that we now have is a little unwieldy,” she said.