Tuesday, December 12, 2017     Volume: 18, Issue: 40
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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 14th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 15 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 15

County departments face staffing cuts

By CAMILLIA LANHAM

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown was very clear with the Board of Supervisors during the first day of budget hearings on June 12: “None of these cuts are at all palatable.”

The County Executive Officer’s proposed budget recommends reducing staffing levels by almost 188 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees to make up for a predicted $35.4 million deficit due in large part to the state’s pension problems. County pension contributions are projected to increase by $7.3 million and the cost per county employee is projected to increase by 6.2 percent.

“Like many other public entities, pension costs have been one of the fastest growing cost elements in the budget,” the proposed budget’s executive summary states. “Total salaries and benefits are increasing slightly by 1.7 percent, while the number of FTE is decreasing by 4.2 percent.”

The staffing cuts will hit the Department of Social Services the hardest, with 71 employees due to lose their jobs with the 2017-18 proposal and almost 30 who will be affected by pay cuts and demotions. Brown said the staffing cuts recommended for the Sheriff’s Office might mean he would have to essentially close the Santa Maria branch of the jail.

He then asked supervisors to give back or defer some of the cuts to the tune of about $1.6 million to keep the Santa Maria jail open and staffed 24/7, or at least fund half of that in order to keep the jail open for a minimum of 12 hours a day.

“This year’s cuts—in actual dollars—are worse than those we incurred during the worst years of the Great Recession, and the really scary part is that this is a five-year problem and that we’re looking at the potential for even more challenges in the future,” he told supervisors during the hearing.

In terms of dollars, though, the county’s proposed budget increased by $5.4 million from 2016-17, while the sheriff’s budget appears to have increased by $6.9 million. During the hearing, 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he wanted to make it clear that the proposed cuts weren’t a cause of reduced revenue, which was the case during the recession.

“We are not allocating fewer resources year-over-year,” he said. “The allocation goes up and level of service goes down, and that’s just because of the pension crisis.”

To address the county’s budget balancing woes, Sheriff Brown gave a few suggestions, saying that simply reducing public safety services is not an answer. He said that they needed to find additional revenue, totally eliminate other county services, or look for ideas outside the box.

After hearing arguments from residents and department heads asking for more money, 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam said the best way to receive more money would simply be to increase the county’s revenue.

“If you all could show up the next time we have a revenue-generating project—you know, last week would have been great. That would have been $1.5 million,” he said, referring to the 3-2 vote on June 5 to ban some short-term vacation rentals.

The Board of Supervisors held more budget hearings on Wednesday, June 14, after the Sun went to press. More hearings are tentatively scheduled for June 16.




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