The County of Santa Barbara’s budget is set for the next fiscal year, an $844-million operating plan that cuts significantly into the county’s ability to provide services, and Sheriff Bill Brown, for one, isn’t happy about it.
Brown, in a press release issued after the final vote Friday, attacked the Board of Supervisors for issuing a “devastating blow” to public safety. Among the cuts are the gang unit and narcotics team. “[R]educing our ability to target gangs and drug dealers at a time when both are on the increase, and making it more difficult to book criminals into jail, will no doubt lead to a decline in public safety,” he said.
Brown told the board that more needs to be done to increase revenues, including perhaps revisiting the controversial Tranquillon Ridge project, which was okayed by the Board of Supervisors but denied by a state commission. He said it’s “important the citizens perceive the county has done all it can do.”
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said decisions made throughout the year about possible revenue-enhancing development tie the hands of the supervisors when June comes around. Placing hurdles in front of oil and gas companies has made it impossible for the county to generate new revenue, he said. “Why aren’t we streamlining the process?” he asked.
The board majority, however, defended their actions, with 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf pointing out several projects the board did approve — Tranquillon Ridge for one, and the Miramar Hotel another. “It’s a much more complicated and a bigger balance we’re trying to reach,” 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said. “We’re looking at it through the eyes of everyone who makes up our community.”
Boardmembers were obviously pained with the amount of cuts that went through to reduce the county’s $72-million deficit, but were left with few options to relieve that hurt. The sheriff, while perhaps the most high-profile, is certainly not alone in facing budget cuts to his department. The majority of county departments are enduring 15-percent cuts, and one department head after the other got up in front of the supervisors to share their grievances.
While there was plenty of pain to go around, the supervisors were also able to inject funding into some programs that were facing cuts. Among the items originally cut in the budget, but restored by the board Friday, are the following:
• The county’s legislative advocates in Sacramento ($60,000).
• The Fire Department helicopter operations ($1 million).
• The Santa Maria Jail ($360,000), which will now be open only three days a week.
• The Human Services Commission, which doles out money to community nonprofits ($1.2 million).
• Homeless warming centers ($25,000).
• A gang intervention team from the Probation Department ($200,000).
• Children’s Health Initiative, which provides health insurance to some of the large number of uninsured children in the county ($150,000).
• Funding for the Film Commission ($25,000), which indicated that this year it generated more than $9 million for the area’s economy.
• Propay, a program that helps 300 people with mental illnesses manage their money and pay bills ($200,000)