The Santa Barbara County Fire Department is seeking new revenue sources to offset a growing $1.8 million deficit in their budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Citygate Associates LLC will present the results of an independent audit of the department to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors today, detailing ways the organization can try to compensate for the budget shortfall. The $75,000 audit estimates that without service cuts or alternate means of revenue, the debt will soar to $15 million within the next four years.
According to First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, the deficit is expected to increase steadily unless significant changes to the department’s funding model are made.
While the audit recommends various solutions to the funding gap including a tax on oil production, Carbajal said the supervisors are gauging public support before deciding to approve any new taxes.
“To do a specific tax, we need only three votes, but the big question for that is timing,” Carbajal said. “Is this the best timing to move forward a measure that’s going to need a two-thirds vote of the public?”
The fire department receives the majority of its funding from state property tax allocations. According to Carbajal, the SBCFD receives a relatively small portion of the state tax revenue compared to other fire departments.
Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said the Board of Supervisors has restructured the county’s allocations of property tax revenue to ensure that important services within the department are preserved.
“In some cases, including the fire department … we have gone ahead and taken money from the general fund to supplement their budget to minimize or lessen as much as possible any service-level impacts that might come out of reduction in funding to that department,” Farr said.