The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors met yesterday morning to examine possible ways of balancing the budget in the face of a shortfall that may trump last year’s whopping $40 million-plus deficit.
The meeting was held at the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria to preempt the County sessions next June which will determine how to best balance the budget. The discussion also attempted to project the county’s future financial position of by examining year’s expenditure and revenues plans for the coming year.
Third District County Supervisor Doreen Farr said the board was fortunate to have had reserves last year to alleviate difficulties balancing its budget, but will not have the same funds available this year.
“We balanced the budget last year with departmental savings that won’t be there this year,” Farr said. “We got concessions from the unions to balance the budget last year when we were facing a $40,000,000 budget gap that we had to fill and this year that gap is going to be higher than forty-million due to increases in pension costs.”
Nonetheless, First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said he hopes to be on stable fiscal grounds by this time next year.
“Balancing the budget will be a challenge just like last year,” Carbajal said. “The financial outlook for the county right now is a bleak picture, but I am confident that by working with the community we will be able to balance the budget by the end of the year, just like we did last year.”
However, Carbajal said decreases in county revenues and increases in expenditures will be an issue.
“The board looked at relationships between expenditures and revenues and examined possible outcomes of short term issues and long term liabilities,” he said. “Some of these issues are related to the state budget, some to the federal budget while others are related to local short falls in revenues such as the county’s property tax revenues that have grown only one to two percent in comparison to the eight percent growth that occurred for the past twenty years.”
Carbajal said problems with county pensions will also pose a problem for the board as they develop a balanced budget for the coming year.
“There is a $5,000,000 shortfall within the fire department and overall the county faces a $59,000,000 shortfall, not including liabilities,” Carbajal said. “At the same time we must deal with rising pension costs due to changing actuarial projections.”
Farr said the county faces a difficult path to financial security, but should be able to balance its budget by June nevertheless.
“I think that the fiscal issues report the board talked about and the financial liabilities, potentially increased by costs of pensions are the single biggest issue the county is facing at the moment,” Farr said. “It is a very concerning budget picture and by law we have to balance the budget.”
Farr concluded last night’s meeting with a request to honor the memory of Lucas Ransom, the UCSB undergraduate student who lost his life in a shark attack last week.