As Goleta voted to amend its budget, Mayor Paula Perotte praised the city’s fiscal conservatism for building a fairly fat cushion of reserve funds but cautioned they needed a plan to keep it replenished. | Credit: Courtesy

The City of Goleta is keeping an eye on its bottom line as pandemic-related losses are expected to continue. “Massive unemployment increases and eroding consumer confidence” have led to sharp declines in sales and bed taxes, as well as user fees and other revenues for the city, City Manager Michelle Greene and Finance Director Luke Rioux wrote in a 94-page report of proposed cuts for Tuesday night’s meeting. Added to that is a 12-month deferment of sales tax that Governor Newsom ordered, of up to $50,000. Ultimately, a budget shortfall of $5.8 million in the General Fund of $24 million is likely unless budgets are trimmed.

Schools are expected to remain online to a large extent — including the economic engines of UC Santa Barbara and City College — through the fall. Consumer confidence in travel is not expected to revive until a vaccine is discovered and approved, which could take another year. And, as teleworking and online shopping become standard, a normal level of consumers in stores and restaurants isn’t likely until next January. Goleta foresaw the next year will continue to see a downturn in income generators like tourism and school visitors.

Because of the Revenue Neutrality Act that handicapped Goleta’s finances when it split from the county, half its property taxes and a portion of sales tax go to the county. Sales and bed taxes, as well as other fees and charges, are expected to drop by more than $1.8 million for the fiscal year. They account for 61 percent of the General Fund revenues for the city. Cannabis taxes are about the only increase, of $70,000 for the year.

To compensate, the city has instituted a hiring freeze — including for a planner, traffic and civil engineers, and housing, budget, and management analysts — and across-the-board cuts to city departments, as well as a stop to projects not yet begun. The resulting reductions of about $4.5 million include $2.4 million in capital improvements and $1.2 million from public works. Only purchases deemed essential are being made. City Manager Greene affirmed the cuts ensured that layoffs and furloughs were not necessary at this point.

Complicating matters is the seesawing stock market, essential to pension planning. The current 7 percent target is not likely to be met, but that effect takes hold in the next fiscal cycle. Should the CalPERS fund not recover, the city would have to fund the liability.

The city retains better than $8.5 million in reserves, some of which can be used to prevent losing critical services. But Greene warns a significant portion must be held back in the expectation of further disruptions to the cash flow. Most of the councilmembers advised leaving the city’s contingency fund as a last resort to give them a cushion should a disaster like an earthquake or fire occur. The budget amendment passed unanimously.

Among the items voted on during the meeting was a recommendation from the city’s Public Engagement Commission to proposed changing the mayor’s term from two to four years through a ballot measure; it passed 4-1, with Councilmember Roger Aceves opposed. Also, the city’s tennis and pickleball courts are open again.

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