An official disclosure of the county’s financial position last week revealed that there may be a little more change in Santa Barbara’s piggy bank than one would expect during a recession.
The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report — a document compiled each year by the county auditor-controller office as part of state mandate — details the particulars of Santa Barbara’s finances up until the end of each fiscal year. The most recent data, which accounts up until June 30, 2010, shows the county to have a $1.7 million surplus.
According to the report, Santa Barbara County — a territory with a population of nearly 435,000 individuals, comprised of eight incorporated cities and land totaling to roughly 2,700 square miles in size — had a total revenue of $734.5 million but expenses of $732.7 million, yielding the $1.7 million surplus.
Janet Wolf, 2nd district supervisor and chair of the Board of Supervisors, said the surplus is a boon to the county — especially at a time when the state is in a large deficit — made possible through concerted work by county officials.
“We did balance the budget last year and this slight balance does reflect strong fiscal management,” Wolf said. “In order to balance our budget, we made many difficult budget decisions and our employees worked with us on either eliminating or deferring schedule salary raises.”
In fact, 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr said the county was presented with the obstacle of overcoming a close to $40 million budget deficit in February — which required some significant cuts.
First of all, in February we were told that we had a $40 million or so gap,” Farr said. “That $40 million came from large county cuts, concessions from our bargaining with unions, furloughs and the county got rid of 177 full time employment positions. There were a number of county departments that had reserve funds. So there was various borrowing from those savings accounts.”
However, 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said while the $1.7 million surplus will add a drop to county reserves, it will not be nearly enough to assuage concerns over what next year’s budget will resemble; the surplus at the end of June 2010 showed that county revenues increased by .1 percent in the 2009-10 fiscal year, while expenditures dipped .3 percent — revealing the $1.7 million surplus to be modest, at best.
Moreover, Carbajal said, the coming fiscal year is going to be fairly similar to the last in terms of financial balancing. In light of the state’s fickle political and economic climate, the county is in the beginning stages of trying to predict what deficit may accrue during fiscal 2010-11.
“We are looking for about $40 to $60 million that we will have to address for next year’s fiscal year,” Carbajal said. “We are looking at a hiring freeze and having that come through the board in the very near future. We are also looking at negotiating with our laborer groups and county workforce agreements to reduce, defer or eliminate some of the benefits that were worked out a number of years back … This year, obviously, we balanced our budgets. In June, we will balance our budget based on projections of revenues and expenditures. Our expenditures have to be in line in order to balance our budget.”
Nevertheless, Farr said things are looking up in the long run as the economy begins to show signs of recovery.
“The long-term trends are showing that an up trend is beginning,” Farr said “The recovery is modest at this time. We hope that the very worst is over and that the year after next will be better.”