The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors received a presentation Tuesday on a five-year fiscal forecast from the County Executive Office.
The purpose of the forecast, covering fiscal years 2021 to 2026, is to provide a context for balancing short-term objectives with long-term goals.
County staff examined the impacts of COVID-19 on the budget as well and made sure not to expand any services. Instead, the goal was to simply maintain existing services because of the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic response and economic impacts.
According to the presentation, expenditure assumptions include increases in salaries, retirement, health insurance, information technology, general liability, and other services and supplies including utilities, professional services and general office costs.
Ongoing commitments to the budget include the Northern Branch Jail Set-Aside, the Fire Tax shift, the 18% Maintenance Funding Plan and the Strategic Reserve.
There are three growth scenarios county staff predicted for revenue: a mild recession, which assumes that the adverse impacts of the pandemic on the economy improve in 2021 and most tax revenues experience growth beginning in fiscal year 2021-22; a baseline scenario, which assumes gradual economic recovery and moderate growth in tax revenues from fiscal year 2022-23 onward; and a pronounced recession, which assumes lingering disruption to economic activity due to the pandemic and slow recovery as a result.
Staff members found the major discretionary revenue sources (property taxes, sales tax, transient occupancy tax and cannabis tax) relatively stable.
County officials said they could see further declines in state and federal revenues during times when the community needs increased support.
The presentation also noted unknowns surrounding the pandemic mean prudence must remain a guiding principle and that the county may need to look to cost-cutting and revenue-generating initiatives.
The significant fiscal issues the county listed include: legislative and policy changes, deferred maintenance backlog estimated at $377 million, investment in technology, facility conditions and office reconfiguration including more than 300 countywide facilities, and innovations.
Looking forward, the officials believe their Renew ’22 initiative has prepared and positioned the county to be responsive and resilient. The initiative involves efforts to adapt by process improvement and innovation training, KPMG Departmental Management reviews, additional or improved digital and online service and more employee engagement.
The next step will be for the county staff to draft budget development guidelines and bring them back to the board for its Dec. 8 meeting.