Wait and see. That’s what Chief Executive Officer Mike Brown (pictured above) recommended the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors do regarding the appropriation of money for numerous expansions of county programs. And it’s ultimately what the board decided to do, voting unanimously to approve the $800 million budget last Friday without hardly laying a hand on the document, except for a decision to put $1 million toward a healthcare initiative for children.
Some supervisors seemed content in letting Brown, whose contract was extended in a 3-2 closed session board vote last Friday, pass his budget through with little change. But Supervisor Janet Wolf, sitting through her first budget hearings, bemoaned that more didn’t get done. At the meeting, she suggested approving or denying various departmental requests for money, but that didn’t happen since Supervisor Joni Gray made a motion to pass Brown’s recommendation for the budget as-is.
Nearly 35 expansion requests from county departments were postponed to the fall. The supervisors okayed added positions in the Sheriff’s Department and clerk’s office, but not the funding for them. They decided not to touch the issue of Casa del Mural, a county-funded residence for the mentally ill, with their non-action allowing a change in management at the residence. The move, which will save the county $530,000 this year, has worried advocates of Casa del Mural. A new North County CARES (Crisis and Recovery Emergency Services) facility, which was recently built, needs $650,000 to open and function, but the funding for that program was delayed as well.
The most substantive action of the week’s meeting came Wednesday, when the supervisors voted 3-2 to approve the $1 million for the Children’s Health Initiative. With supervisors Brooks Firestone and Gray dissenting-“We don’t know the numbers, we don’t know the costs, we don’t know the escalation of the costs,” Firestone said-the board voted to start decreasing the roughly 16,000 uninsured children in the county. COLAB’s (Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business) executive director, Andy Caldwell, protested an initial motion from Supervisor Salud Carbajal to take $300,000 from tobacco settlement money with the remaining $700,000 coming from the General Fund. Caldwell told the supervisors that using settlement funds would be inappropriate. “Let’s make some hard decisions instead of borrowing against our future,” he said. Caldwell was followed by Sister Janet Corcoran from Santa Maria’s Marian Medical Center, who called the budget a moral document that puts “people before the numbers.” After hearing the comments, Carbajal changed his motion to take the money entirely from the General Fund. The funding was approved.
The budget expenditure totaled $757.9 million, up 5.7 percent from the current fiscal year. “With recently robust property tax revenues,” Brown wrote, “the county is in good fiscal health for the coming year. However, the current economic climate indicates tightening credit and a soft real estate market could further negatively impact the growth of property tax revenue and real estate transfer taxes.” Wolf offered a different analysis. “Things don’t look all that bleak. While we all must be prudent and aware of our limitations, we have to look toward the future with a positive outlook.”
Wolf begrudgingly voted to approve the budget-“We didn’t really have much input,” said Wolf-as did Carbajal, who didn’t want to be on record voting against the healthcare initiative.
Despite the approval, the budget isn’t necessarily done. The motion kept the door open for discussions in October, when the board is scheduled to revisit the expansions. Concerns linger as to the current fiscal year’s financial impacts, including the Sheriff’s Department possibly overspending by $725,000; a court revenue shortfall of more than $450,000; Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services not receiving the full $3.1 million of expected revenue from the state; and estimated revenues from the Proposition 172 tax being short by $2.9 million rather than $1.6 million