Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and City Administrator Jim Armstrong gave an optimistic view of what the city had done over the past year and what they have in store for the next in the 2008 State of the City address they presented Thursday morning in front of about 600 local business leaders and politicians in the Grand Ballroom of Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort. “We’ve met many goals as well as faced some challenges,” Blum told the crowd.
Focusing on five areas – youth and family, emergency preparedness, community facilities, sustainability, and long-range planning – Blum highlighted many of the achievements the city had over the past year. Just a week prior to her 2007 address, a 15-year-old was murdered in what authorities say was a gang-related incident, and gangs and youth violence was the first topic Blum addressed. “The city has made curbing gang violence a top priority,” she said, noting increased police presence in known gang neighborhoods, partnerships with schools and service providers, and increasing after school programs for youth. “We realize the solution to violence goes beyond making arrests,” she said, noting after school sports leagues said an increase in participation by 50 percent.
Last summer’s Zaca Fire forced the city to prepare for emergencies, Blum said, and the city is currently working with other agencies in preparing a tsunami emergency plan. “It’s not if but when the next one hits,” Blum said of the day when a disaster will hit the city she’s been mayor of for seven years. Blum’s speaking was interspersed with video presentations prepared by city staff.
Blum ceded the stand to Armstrong, who got more into the nitty-gritty of the city’s financial state. “The mayor always gets to do the good news and I always get to do the bad news,” Armstrong said, adding that despite some negative news, the city, in general was in strong fiscal condition. Its transient occupancy tax was at $14 million, up 2 percent from last year, while sales tax growth was flat and property tax growth was slowing, all of which are having a negative effect on the budget. City officials are projecting a $3 million budget shortfall when the budget for the next fiscal year is submitted in the coming weeks, Armstrong said, but they “expect the overall impacts to be minimal.” The city’s General Fund reserve will remain at around $22 million, and there are several departments with their own reserves totaling about $35 million.
Armstrong had no trouble taking digs at the state legislature, telling the crowd that year after year the state cannot be counted on to balance its budget or make sense out of an “ongoing fiscal disaster.” “The state continues to be not effective in financial management,” he said, blaming the state for no long-range infrastructure planning. And with a more than $10 billion deficit facing the state, the effects will trickle down. Anticipated cuts to the County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Department will mean more people homeless and on the street needing help, he said. He also plugged the renewal of Measure D, a sales tax which goes to fund many of the county’s transportation needs. The city receives roughly $4.9 million a year from the measure to maintain its 268 miles of roads. “It’s critical that this funding source be maintained,” Armstrong said.