A doom-and-gloom forecast of Santa Barbara County’s fiscal status from staff-echoed by 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone-preceded efforts by the Board of Supervisors during its November 6 meeting to approve what it could from a lengthy list of expansion requests remaining from June’s budget hearings. The supervisors were able to agree on passing four expansion requests totaling $447,021, with all the money coming out of the county’s general fund. Additionally, the board also instructed county staff to find the $650,000 to fund a North County clinic for uninsured mental health patients.
Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Janet Wolf tried a number of combinations to get more expansions pushed through, but-having heard a report from county Assessor Joe Holland on the dropping value of property assessments and a recommendation from County Executive Officer Mike Brown to forestall expansions-the rest of the supervisors were wary about proceeding with any requests. Among the expansions granted, however, were unanimously approved allotments of $83,000 to the District Attorney’s Office and $88,721 to the Probation Department for a new staff position.
In June, the board had deferred until fall nearly $7 million in departmental budget expansions and $1.7 million in community organization funding. Ten requests were withdrawn before the November 6 meeting began, dropping the total departmental budget expansion request amount to $4.1 million and seemingly lightening the load for the supervisors. But with a list of 16 pending issues-among them, paying for the 2008 presidential primary, funding a new county jail, and the reauthorization of Measure D-and rising expenditures teamed with fragile revenue sources, Brown expressed trepidation at moving forward with any of the requests, especially considering the county’s so-so fiscal quarter.
Firestone-repeating his cry from the June budget meetings that the current good times could give way to potential problems in the near future-voted in favor of only one request. In the weeks before the meeting, Firestone asked Brown to be prepared to present “any reductions from the adopted budget which could help offset expansions or help deal with other reductions which may be necessary” as a result of first-quarter numbers, according to a November 1 memo from Brown to the board. The memo caused concern for many residents, who were led to believe that staff positions and funding-including a sizable amount in the Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services Department-could be cut. Brown assured those in attendance that was not, in fact, going to happen at the meeting, but could possibly be discussed at a future date. “There are many things going on, and none of them are good,” Firestone said, explaining why he asked Brown to prepare the data.
Wolf and Carbajal tried to “temper the hysteria,” as 1st District Supervisor Carbajal put it, countering the gloomy message from county staff. The county faced the same predicament last year, 2nd District Supervisor Wolf explained, but still managed to make room for capital spending. This year, she said, they’re trying to pay for “human expenses,” not capital expenses. “We are here to make difficult decisions,” Wolf said.
Wolf, Carbajal, and 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno tried to pass a combination of funding for the Human Services Commission-which helps community members such as the homeless and children-and the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission, but it didn’t garner the necessary four votes. Once staff explained that the combination hadn’t received the necessary number of votes to pass, Carbajal became visibly frustrated. “We’re talking about peanuts out of millions of dollars,” he said emphatically, speaking loudly into his microphone. “We can’t fund some very essential programs? What’s the matter with us?” He then tried to push for the entire Human Services Commission request-$417,000-to be passed, a vote that he and Wolf lost, 3-2. After the meeting, Carbajal expressed a “little frustration,” and said he left the hearing “okay with the decisions made, but not completely satisfied.”