If the hug shared last Friday, June 13, by 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray and 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf was any indication, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors was relieved to have passed the budget after hours of deliberation, disagreement, and disappointment. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t fun, but the board adopted its final budget, a $760 million document that featured millions of dollars in cuts. The waist-tightening comes in light of an estimated $17 billion deficit at the state level, and may have to be readjusted based on the state’s passage of its budget this summer.
To accommodate the state’s deficit, the supervisors asked each county department to propose 5 percent deductions. But each department also must shoulder their share of increasing retirement costs, which county CEO Mike Brown considered the most significant impact on this year’s budget after jumping from $65 million last year to more than $80 million in 2008-09. (Those costs are determined by the Employees’ Retirement System Board, which operates independently of the county.) And the revenue picture wasn’t pretty either-almost 91 percent of county funds last year came from property taxes, and they’ve been leveling off for the past few years.
The only saving grace for this year’s budget was the $4.1 million that is estimated to still be in the county’s bank from 2007-08. The supervisors-who took no reductions in their own salaries or office budgets, save for one part-time assistant who left the 3rd District-used that money to cover some of the cuts, but then allocated another $3 million to cover more departmental needs. That additional bump caused 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone and Gray to vote against adoption. “I cannot support that large a deficit,” said Firestone. “We are spending in excess of our income.” (Gray’s aforementioned hug with Wolf was apparently out of general relief to be done.)
The $3 million in overflow spending will be taken, in part, out of the county’s smoking cessation program ($50,000) and from an endowment of tobacco settlement funds ($2.4 million). Also, in light of news that the county may not have to pay in a lawsuit it originally lost-an appellate court recently reversed a decision in the case of Adam Brothers Farming, Inc.-the supervisors took $500,000 from the county’s more than $5 million litigation reserve. After that borrowing, the supervisors managed to keep the county’s strategic reserve around $24 million; that account, however, was once at $34.7 million.
The bulk of the financial relief, to the tune of about $5 million, went to help the Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services (ADMHS) department gain footing. The department claimed that its total deficit was $8.4 million, while leaders of community-based organizations estimated the cost to be closer to $5 million.
What follows is a rundown of the more significant county programs that were either spared or sacrificed at Friday’s meeting:
• ADMHS: $250,000 to the Alcohol and Drug program.
• Public health programs: $50,000 to an HIV/AIDS program, $121,000 to a Geriatric Assessment Program, and $92,000 to the Cuyama Clinic.
• Tourism: $50,000 to the Santa Barbara Visitor and Conference Bureau Film Commission, with an emphasis on promoting county revenue.
• Agriculture: $207,000 to preserve the Agricultural Advisory Committee and for an oak tree specialist position.
• Fire Department: $768,185, including a $670,000 general contribution reduction, which is anticipated to cause problems in three or so years.
• County Counsel: $306,060, specifically dropping an attorney and two legal secretary positions.
• Public Health: $1.17 million, including eliminating radiology technicians and a program that provides in-home care for low-income seniors at risk of going to nursing homes.
• Probation Department: $1.7 million, including the closure of the Santa Barbara Juvenile Hall, which will become a 10-hour booking facility; all detained will now be at Santa Maria Juvenile Hall.
• Sheriff’s Department: $2.59 million, including cutting nearly 20 positions.
• CEO’s office: $461,082, including the reduction of more than two full-time positions, with the workload transferred to other executive staff in departments.