State of the City highlights balanced budget, vaccine efforts
At Goleta’s State of the City event Friday morning, city leadership reflected on Goleta’s pandemic response and looked ahead to the city’s future with optimism.
The event was still held virtually as it was last year, but the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce announced that after Santa Barbara’s State of the City next month, the State of the County will be the first held in person in July.
“Yes, families have lost loved ones, livelihoods have been significantly affected and best laid plans have been delayed. Still, I am humbled by the efforts of so many to overcome this unexpected threat,” Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte said during the event.
The mayor said that “things are looking up,” with businesses, restaurants and schools reopening, allowing many to return to work. She pointed out some of the key accomplishments by city staff throughout the year of the pandemic, including drafting a Creek and Watershed Management Plan, completing park renovations and initiating diversity, inclusion and equity efforts. She also reflected on some of the largest capital improvement projects in Goleta history starting or already completed in 2020 and 2021, including the Old Town Sidewalk Improvement Project, the Hollister Avenue Old Town Interim Striping Project and the San Jose Creek channel repairs, among others.
Michelle Greene, Goleta’s city manager, provided an update on budgeting and finances at the State of the City. She shared that the city’s revenue dropped 21%, with the sales tax revenue losses nearing $1 million and the hotel tax shortfall nearing $8.4 million.
But, the revised budget is balanced, she said. Revisions to the budget included a $5.9 million revenue reduction, $6.8 million in spending cuts and project deferrals, a temporary hiring freeze that reduced the workforce by 12% and the one-time use of more than $3.1 million in reserves. Currently, Goleta has a contingency reserve of $8.5 million, and the unassigned fund balance in the city’s general fund sits at $10.7 million.
Property taxes did not decline, and are actually projected to increase by 1.7% for a total of $8 million in the next year or so, according to Ms. Greene. Sales tax revenues are projected to increase by 15% for a total of $7.3 million.
Goleta’s hotel occupancy saw an 80% drop from 2019, resulting in 17% occupancy in April of 2020, and the total transient occupancy tax received in Fiscal Year 2019-20 was $9.2 million — a 20% decrease from the previous fiscal year. The current fiscal year has seen a 54% occupancy rate, but it is expected to reach the annual average of 60% occupancy by next month.
The city’s unemployment rate in April of 2020 was at 11.3%, but as of March 2021, that number had decreased significantly to 3.9%
The city manager also listed the Goleta’s unfunded priorities moving forward — deferred facilities and pavement maintenance and implementation of the homelessness strategic plan and the Creeks and Watershed Management Plan, among others.
“We face challenges in keeping up with the city’s aging infrastructure,” Ms. Greene said. “The city will struggle to keep up with the needs of the community.”
Donna Lewis, the Goleta Unified School District’s superintendent, shared that the district completed more than 20 rounds of COVID surveillance testing, and more than 88% of its employees are vaccinated. It received $1.9 million in COVID relief funding from the federal and state government, and used it to purchase PPP, air purifiers, cleaning supplies and hire staff.
She also mentioned that as the students faced remote learning, “access to technology became crucial,” so the school district provided more than 3,100 new and repurposed chromebooks to students and staff.
“Our students consistently achieve at higher levels than students from similar racial and ethnic backgrounds, and from families of similar socioeconomic levels,” Ms. Lewis said. “We are proud of the academic achievement of all students at GUSD.”
Mark Linehan, president and CEO of the Wynmark Company, provided a business outlook for State of the City viewers, sharing that a large portion of Goleta’s unemployment came from lower-paying jobs.
“The restaurant community, bars and entertainment have just been truly devastated,” he said. “We find today that, as we approach a bit of a recovery, those companies are struggling to find labor to come back and be available and allow their business to succeed.”
He referenced the Camino Real Marketplace for example, saying that many are dealing with the uncertainty of the continual closing and reopening of businesses. This uncertainty has led to many of these employees seeking a different direction.
Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious disease specialist at Cottage Health, made mention of the fact that in Santa Barbara County, hospitals were able to retain Intensive Care Unit capacity at all locations, although it “certainly did decrease.” She provided statistics on cases for Goleta, Isla Vista and the unincorporated areas of the Goleta Valley, which show that over the last two months that cases are decreasing, with the case numbers “greatly improving” over the past two weeks, in particular.
The infectious disease specialist concluded that Goleta is experiencing mproving case rates, rising vaccine rates and health systems that have been strengthened from the pandemic.
Arie Dejong, the vice president of Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, reported to viewers that Cottage Health administered 94,271 COVID-19 vaccines as of May 11.
Dr. Robin Malone of Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital pointed out that the vaccine clinic there is now administering 2,000 doses a day.
“So, what is the state of our city?” Mayor Perotte asked. “If we measure only by the traditional yard sticks, we might judge the state of our city to be lacking the health and finances of many local businesses. Families have been impacted, our children have lost some valuable learning and socialization time and many lives were disrupted.
“I emphatically repeat that the state of our city is strong because of how our most important resource — our people — reacted to the pandemic. We have been challenged and have emerged stronger than ever.”