County Board of Supervisors meeting on June 12.
Paul Wellman

Last June, it was proposed that the Human Services Commission ​— ​a public/private partnership that provides grants to nonprofits serving county residents ​— ​be cut to save the county $1.2 million. It was rescued by the Board of Supervisors.

At the same time, the gang unit was slated to be eliminated by Sheriff Bill Brown, who said he felt he was overseeing the systematic dismantling of his department through repeated budget cuts year after year. The board gave the Sheriff’s Department money to keep the unit afloat.

Also last June, funding for the Santa Barbara Film Commission, which encourages and promotes production throughout the county that generates tax revenue, was also going to be cut. The supervisors decided to save the commission’s funding, as well.

This year, these three programs are all back on the chopping block, despite the almost unanimous understanding that what they do is positive. “I spoke earlier today about the dismantling of programs that are working,” said Supervisor Janet Wolf during a discussion of Human Services. “Every year this comes up: ‘Let’s just cut the million dollars out of the Human Services Commission.’ And from my perspective and from talking to my commissioners and members of the community, this is a program that works. The benefits to the community are quite significant, so it’s just troubling when we talk about board priorities to kind of see this back on our service-level impact list again.”

For the last five or so years, the county has been slicing and dicing its budget, so much so that there is no more fat, and hardly any meat, left. “We’re cutting away some bone,” CEO Chandra Wallar ​— ​in her second budget cycle with the county ​— ​told the Board of Supervisors, who are trying to figure out how to close a $17-million deficit.

That means virtually eliminating programs to achieve fiscal stability, said Wallar, who explained that because of the increased costs of employee benefits, the county is providing less services at higher prices. Such is the case in the Fire Department, which could see the closure of Station 11 in Goleta ​— ​a loss of nine positions ​— ​and a total budget gap of $2.3 million, but a recent decision to shift a larger percentage of property-tax revenue to the department will help put a dent in that number.

One of the three programs mentioned above, the sheriff’s gang unit, will be spared (this coming year, at least) by salary savings from the current year. The other two might very well be spared come Friday. Others might not be so lucky.

Over the course of the year, Wallar has tried to take steps to save money. The county invested in an analysis of the Fire Department, combined the sheriff and fire aviation units, consolidated a few departments into the Community Services Department, and more. The county got concessions from nearly every employee group represented.

Some departments are doing better than others. The District Attorney’s Office, for instance, is looking at holding on to all of its positions ​— ​and potentially adding an attorney position to begin the truancy program. DA Joyce Dudley was lauded by the supervisors Monday for the work her department had achieved under difficult circumstances.

Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services (ADMHS) officials, on the other hand, are looking at adding administrative positions while at the same time cutting psychiatric inpatient beds and reducing contracts. In recent months, ADMHS director Ann Detrick has been dressed down by members of the board for not finding solutions to problems that have plagued her department for years.

The budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1, is $800.1 million in expenditures. That’s 3,801 staff positions ​— ​87 more than last year, but 550 less than the high of the 2007-2008 year. Forty of the positions are to help with the county’s increased responsibilities through AB 109, the prison realignment program that sets the county up for more responsibility when it comes to the incarcerated.

The county is also looking ahead to 2013-2014, already anticipating a deficit of $18 million to $20 million. The supervisors heard from 13 departments Monday morning and were slated to hear presentations from the rest Wednesday. The board is expected to finalize its budget Friday.


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