City Council of Santa Barbara | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Santa Barbara City Council finalized its budget Tuesday, with a few last-minute tweaks to the downtown parking program and an intense discussion over a proposed increase in waterfront slip fees.

When all was said and done — after factoring in the council’s changes, the expected $220 million in revenues, an estimated $224.6 million in expenditures, and an extra $2.9 million the city had to use to meet its reserve policy target — the city’s deficit landed at $7.4 million.

Finance Director Keith DeMartini | Credit: Courtesy

Finance Director Keith DeMartini and Budget Manager Natalija Glusac were back in front of the council to present the final version of the budget, running through the late additions and amendments recommended by staff and councilmembers.

One of these late changes was with the Downtown Parking Program, which is expected to use up the remainder of its reserves next year. City staff had recommended a major overhaul of the program, which would have implemented paid on-street parking for the first time in the city’s history.

During a special budget hearing in May, the council reversed course, instead recommending that the free period be extended to 90 minutes and directing staff to look at other ways to fund the program. 

Eventually, the council agreed to maintain the 75-minute complimentary period in city lots and garages — although Councilmember Kristen Sneddon still stood firm in her support for a 90-minute free period, saying it would help bring people back downtown. The city will also draw $200,000 from its “Clean Communities” fund to cover downtown corridor maintenance and several downtown parking capital projects will now be funded through Measure C. 

But going forward, City Council asked that staff look into reclassifying the downtown parking fund altogether, changing it from a self-sustaining enterprise fund to a program supported by the city’s general fund.

The council nearly made a last-minute change to the plan to increase waterfront slip fees by 10 percent. One boat harbor resident described the sudden jump to another 10 percent could price him and other liveaboards and fisherman out of the harbor. It would become available only to the wealthy,” he said.

Waterfront Director Mike Wiltshire explained that, because the Waterfront Department is an enterprise fund that must pay for all of its own operations, it must do so by either raising parking fees, slip fees, or adjusting leases at the harbor. 

Even the 10 percent increase is “still not enough” to bring the waterfront out of the red, Wiltshire said, though it could keep the department from falling further behind.

“It is a tough pill to swallow,” Wiltshire said. “But these dollars are what are required to make us a financially sustainable operation.”

City Council went back and forth on the fee increases with Councilmember Meagan Harmon floating the middle-ground compromise of 5 percent, though eventually it became clear that reducing the expected revenues even that much could cost the city more than $300,000. 

After trying to work out the logistics, the council ultimately decided to increase slip fees by 10 percent. Four of the seven councilmembers voted in favor of the increase, with councilmembers Harmon and Sneddon opposed (Mayor Randy Rowse, who owns a boat at the harbor, recused himself from the vote).

Council agreed to adopt the remainder of the budget with minor changes and a few directions to city staff, including having the harbor commission find ways to make it affordable for liveaboards and to schedule a city meeting to take a deeper dive into the long list of proposed capital projects.

“I’m just not sure that every single one of the capital projects that we’re looking at are worth it at this point where we are economically,” said Councilmember Sneddon. “Seems to me that even delaying one project could balance our budget.”

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