The budget unanimously approved by the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday was balanced in name only. Through an ingenious combination of cuts, fee increases, contract concessions, and wishful thinking, the council-with strong leadership from City Administrator Jim Armstrong-managed to bridge a $10.5-million budget shortfall for the next year. But even before the ink had dried, new sales and bed tax figures showed that Santa Barbara’s fiscal fissure is far deeper than anticipated. “It’s a budget that already has a $1.4 million hole in it,” lamented city finance czar Bob Peirson-and that’s on a good day. The passed budget assumes the feds will fund at least two street cops; that the state doesn’t forcibly “borrow” $1.6 million in revenues; and that the state doesn’t outright raid $1.5 million from the city in gas tax revenues that would otherwise go to tree trimming and street repair. Making the time bomb tick even louder, $3.1 million of the council’s redirected revenues are one-time funds, meaning they can’t be used again next year. Already exhaustive and exhausting, this year’s budget talks remain far from over. Within the next two months, the council, Armstrong, and Peirson will be back at it, chopping services and raising fees. Thus far, no warm bodies have been laid off, but how long that can last remains unknown. Councilmember Iya Falcone sought to restore two civilian positions cut from the Police Department. None of her colleagues supported that idea. Even Dale Francisco-who championed reinstatement of these positions just two weeks ago-retreated. Despite such misgivings, Falcone endorsed the budget, vowing to restore public safety at another date. The grim tax reports reignited Councilmember Das Williams in his quest for more revenues. He proposed charging a new tax on medical marijuana dispensaries and imposing a 20-cent surcharge on one-time bags dispensed at area markets and grocery stores. Both would require voter approval.


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