Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 2
Projected county budget deficit increases
By BRENNA SWANSTON
It turns out the county’s budget deficit is even worse than previously thought.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors crunched the numbers at its meeting on March 7, and the updated cost of major fiscal issues for the 2017-2018 fiscal year now totals $17.6 million—whereas in December, the costs were reported as $10.8 million.
County budget director Tom Alvarez said in his presentation at the board meeting that while the preliminary general fund deficit was estimated at $13.6 million, the current estimate reaches $15.9 million.
Including non-general fund issues, the gap between expenditures and revenues for the county is projected to reach $35.4 million in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, and to continue growing over the following years, according to an agenda letter by County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato. The deficit is thanks to increasing salary and benefit costs, mostly due to employee pensions.
“These cost increases are expected to significantly impact county departments and will necessitate service level reductions and rebalancing over the five-year period absent new revenues,” Miyasato wrote in her letter.
The budget troubles began in October 2016, when projected pension costs for county employees spiked unexpectedly due to the Board of Retirement’s approval of a decrease in the assumed rate of return on pensions, lowering it from 7.5 percent to 7 percent.
Miyasato’s letter included a list of proposed changes to the county’s funding policies or priorities, intended to help resolve the deficit.
The list’s first item is deferring or delaying the $9.1 million contribution to the Northern Branch Jail, though county staff recommended not changing the funding plan for the branch. Staff did recommend potential changes to funding for:
• Behavioral Wellness,
• the Fire District,
• employee salaries and pensions,
• road and facilities maintenance,
• public safety,
• tobacco settlement funds,
• workers’ comp,
• outside agency funding.
The supervisors will discuss potential service level reductions and return in April for a budget workshop, according to Alvarez’s presentation. The 2017-2018 budget is slated for release in May and review hearings will be from June 12 to 16.
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