Local Politics

Santa Barbara County budget hearings reveal millions of dollars in financial concerns

Two disasters taking a toll

Budget Battle Begins
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara County is facing millions of dollars in known and unknown issues, largely from the back to back disasters since December.
Budget hearings are underway today, Wednesday and Friday with many strains being felt in the presentations.

Some solutions and collaborations are woven into the department head speeches and that has won over some praise from the Board of Supervisors as the issues are sorted out.  "That's what i think is important, getting department heads together to find solutions and move forward," said Supervisor Janet Wolf.
Cuts in services of about $5-million have been projected by the administrative staff but no layoffs have been announced.  Wolf said there are many areas that should not be neglected if creative ideas and all options are laid out during the hearings. 
"We have state revenue to take care of our roads, where is the increased revenue to take care of the people  who need it in our community, mental health services, public health services, social services.  There are so many needs in our community," she said.
Supervisor Peter Adam called it "Groundhog Day" making reference to a movie where a scene repeats itself over and over.  He felt that way about the budget priorities and the discussion.
Adams say more efforts to get new businesses going will help ease the county's budget shortfalls.
He said  "we get approximately 90 percent of our discretionary money through property taxes and we have been suffocating development for the last 40 years. This is why we don't have any cash flow."
Adam suggested an initiative on the ballot to fund mental health and social services after roads and building maintenance were covered.
Supervisor Das Williams also said the county needs to make decisions that were "revenue based after you evaluate the needs that will be presented in the next week,"

The county has challenges from the Thomas fire in December and the Montecito mudflow in January that are unprecedented.   Some of the clean up costs will be covered by federal and state emergency funds, but the county has already put out an estimated $6-million that will be all out of its bank.
The change in property tax revenues from the estimated 400 damaged and destroyed homes is expected to exceed $20-million in the next two years.  Add to that the loss of residents who are no longer living in the area, spending money and contributing to the economy in other ways, and the mystery impacts mount.
Both the Four Season Biltmore Hotel and the San Ysidro Ranch remain closed, which is a gut punch to the tourism dollars the two racked up annually, along with money the guests would spend outside of the properties.

The cost to staff the new north county jail that's soon to be completed, is estimated at in excess of $18-million dollars for the first year.

There may be  income to the  budget from the cannabis industry, which said to have more permits in this county than anywhere in the state .  A new tax is going before voters on the June ballot.

The county is looking at options to improve efficiencies including, centralized human resources, more paperless technology, consolidating multiple locations and a general purpose sales tax.
The budget hearings will help guide the final decisions in June in order for the new financial plan to be ready July 1.

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