The county split process has been underway by serious citizens for the past five years. About 33,000 north County voters signed a petition to force the State of California to investigate both the high costs of Santa Barbara County governance and south County’s political influence on policies which are generally liberal, anti-business, anti-agricultural and against private property rights.
Not only are the benefits of the 4,000 county employees out of line with the private sector, but the five supervisors have given themselves salary and benefit increases, which are now beyond those received by the taxpayers in the private sector. You cannot expect the present employees of the county, including the five supervisors, to limit their benefits. They and their unions are the reason why we have the mess we have today in Santa Barbara County and just why a county split review was requested by the voters.
The petition requested that the state address the shortcomings of the present Santa Barbara County through a financial study. It also called for the possible formation of a new county named Mission County. The proposed new county could be based on a private industry business financial structure and a middle-right political viewpoint supporting industry and private property rights. The new county would be a full-service contract county unlike the present Santa Barbara County.
There is no reason why the new Mission County should have any permanent yearly debt or acquire existing debt as predicted by the County Auditor-Controller. The flaw in the Auditor-Controller’s income-cost analysis is that it uses an existing look-alike county department budget and income numbers. How can one assume that anything in the future is going to look like anything in the past unless you deliberately set it up that way?
The preordained $30 million debt is not based on a new county financial structure, but on the old format. The new Mission County would have a clean sheet of paper on which to start out as a contract county with a drastically different way of providing full services to the county citizens. Yet, the County Split Commission does not present an alternative to the Santa Barbara County “look-alike” scenario.
There is no reason why the new county should assume part of the $200 million unfunded retirement debt of Santa Barbara County. This debt is assigned to the present and past employees of the present county and should be entirely borne by Santa Barbara County since none of these employees will work for the new county at the present benefit level of Santa Barbara County.
While there will initially be budget constraints in the new county, property tax revenue has already increased by nearly $7 million from what was indicated in the Commission’s study. In addition, a business-friendly Mission County can generate other sources of revenues and more sales taxes. Millions in oil revenues from the new slant drilling leases are examples of new business-friendly revenues for the Mission County.
There will be no new taxes involved in a new county. Any new taxes must be voted on and approved by a two-thirds majority on a separate ballot. The creation of a new county does not affect the existing jurisdictions of water districts sewer districts or school districts. The remaining Santa Barbara County will gain a financial windfall according to the Commission’s study and will have no adverse financial impacts.
State Law mandates up to a two-year transition period. There will be no disruption of services because the existing county will continue to maintain control as each department is relocated to the new county. The existing board of supervisors is lawfully bound to facilitate this transition. Mission County supervisors will be elected after Measure H has been passed by the voters.
Both Mission County and Santa Barbara County will remain above the state average in population size. Santa Barbara County is currently ranked 23 out of 58. After the new county is created, the two will be ranked 27 and 28 respectively out of 59.
The prospects of a Mission County without the bloated financial structure of the old county should be welcomed by the northerners. The prospect of a smaller Santa Barbara County reorganized without the bloated management structure of the past should also be welcomed by the southerners. Vote yes for modern Mission and Santa Barbara Counties.
Justin M. Ruhge is a Lompoc, Calif. resident and a Concerned Taxpayers I.N.C. member.