Santa Barbara County has more than $38 million in federal pandemic relief funding still to be allocated — and some of the money could be used to add needed positions.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has already committed about $52.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds, with the majority of that money earmarked for health and human services issues.
An additional $38,355,837 has yet to be allocated, Nancy Anderson, Santa Barbara County’s Budget and Research Department director, told the board Thursday.
Director Anderson presented an update on ARPA funding — how it’s been allocated and what still unspent money could be used for — to the board as part of a marathon series of budget workshops this week. The ARPA funds are essentially “a budget within a budget,” she said.
Santa Barbara County has about $17.6 million in discretionary ARPA funding, which can be used for governmental services excluding debt, legal settlements and reserves.
Ms. Anderson suggested earmarking the money for needed updates to the Public Safety Radio Network, which handles 9-1-1 calls and interagency communications. The current system is no longer supported for parts and updates and poses a significant risk to the county, according to the presentation given to the board.
Additionally, the county has about $20.7 million in restricted ARPA funding. Officials found about 59 projects that could be eligible for these funds — however, those projects total $116 million.
Eligible projects include the Isla Vista Community Center sewer replacement and other improvements, hearing room improvements with closed captioning and Project Clean Water mandates.
The funds could also be used to tackle court backlogs in the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s departments.
Other eligible projects included expansion requests from the Sheriff’s Office for its co-response team and community resource deputies in Orcutt and Montecito.
“Projects not funded by ARPA can certainly be considered for other one-time funds by your board,” Director Anderson said.
Supervisor Steve Lavagnino suggested using some of the “one-time” ARPA money to fund ongoing needs. Then, over the course of the few years that the federal funding would cover the position or project, the county could determine if the position is truly needed or if other funding could open up to cover the ongoing costs.
“We’ve had so much one-time money available through ARPA that I don’t really see much on the one-time calendar that piques my interest as opposed to some of the things that are ongoing that I find very critical,” Supervisor Lavagnino said.
Supervisor Bob Nelson also expressed interest in creating a “trial program” by allocating funding this way.
The Board of Supervisors held a bevy of workshops this week to analyze budgetary needs throughout all facets of the county.
The county budget for fiscal year 2022-2023 is estimated to be $1.4 billion with a “stable” outlook, according to presentations given this week. This is the fourth consecutive year no county departments need to propose a service level reduction.