The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved the budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year Tuesday with a 4 to 1 vote.
Board vice chair and Fourth District supervisor Peter Adam voted against it. Tuesday was his final budget hearing as a county supervisor.
Though at $1.19 million, the fiscal year 2020-21 budget is a 4.4 percent increase from that of fiscal year 2019-20, the budget is impacted by the recession brought about from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the agenda letter, Santa Barbara residents forgoing driving and a drop in tourism amid the health crisis has led to a $3.9 million in transportation revenue losses. The cost of response efforts like coronavirus testing, contact tracing and temporary facilities to house COVID-19 patients will cost $5.6 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The fiscal year’s total revenue losses are expected to reach $21.7 million.
The new budget also estimates a loss of about $10.8 million in realignment revenues for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which is expected to especially impact the Department of Social Services. To make up for this shortfall, the $10.8 million absence will be backfilled by money from the General Fund.
This consists of $3 million from cannabis tax revenue, $3.8 million from strategic reserve, $2 million from Southern California Edison settlement monies and $2 million carrying over from the previous fiscal year.
Proposition 172 revenues are estimated to experience a loss of $3.6 million in the new fiscal year. Departments such as the Sheriff, District Attorney, Probation, Public Defender and Community Services will have their expected losses backfilled with Proposition 172 funds to preserve their service levels.
With the new budget, the board commits to priorities such as commencing operation of the soon-to-be-opened Northern Branch Jail, which costs $20.4 million to operate, opening the ReSource Center in early 2021, using four major grants the county has received to work with Behavioral Wellness in reducing the number of mentally ill individuals entering the criminal justice system, and doing priority capital projects. Among these are public safety radio placement, main jail renovations, upgrading the infrastructure at Cachuma Lake Park and expanding the Emergency Operations Center.
To protect the county’s finances from the effects of the pandemic, the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget makes adjustments to prior-year practices such as allocating cannabis revenue to one-time uses to make up for temporary revenue losses, enhancing the beginning balance in the General Fund Contingency reserve from $4 million to $5 million and maintaining a strategic reserve of $33.7 million.
The lone no vote on the new budget, Mr. Adam delivered a speech late in the meeting during which he described the budget as “status quo” and “disappointing.”
He lamented that the board hadn’t taken bold enough action on the budget given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. While local residents are facing economic hard times due to the shutdowns, he expressed that the board hadn’t made enough reductions to the budget, an act he thought would be beneficial in the future and recognize the hardships citizens are going through now.
“We all understand intellectually that people are hurting, but we’re not really acting as if we understand that. A show of solidarity by enduring some privations of our own would be a good sign of faith and empathy with county residents,” he said.
He also took issue with the board accumulating deferred maintenance costs, arguing that “you can’t really say you have a balanced budget unless you’re fully funding maintenance.”
Looking back on his two terms as a supervisor, he regretted that his idea of reducing government spending didn’t come to fruition.
“I apologize to my grandchildren born and unborn and all future residents and taxpayers for having failed to articulate these ideas more gracefully and failing to convince my colleagues of their merit and resulting in different choices,” he said.