Santa Barbara County approves $1.19 billion budget


The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved the county’s fiscal plans for the upcoming year with a “status quo” budget that maintains the existing service levels within the county’s departments amid financial losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Assistant County Executive Officer Jeff Frapwell estimates that the ongoing public health crisis will cost the county $27.3 million in combined revenue losses and additional expenses during the next fiscal year. This is on top of the roughly $25.1 million hit he’s estimating the county is taking during the current fiscal year, which ends in June.

To cover the losses, the county is backfilling departments with other funds, including more than $10 million in cannabis tax revenue and other county reserve funds.

During the budget hearing on June 9, 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, a strong supporter of the cannabis industry, said that although the county has issues to work through with regulating the local cannabis industry, the revenue that it generates is integral to the county’s budget.

“It’s been controversial, it’s been messy, but this budget, without cannabis revenue, would have been an unmitigated disaster,” Lavagnino said.

Although the budget supervisors approved doesn’t include any cuts, it mostly ignores budget requests that departments made prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, supervisors did allocate nearly $200,000 to the Animal Services Department for additional staffing.

Supervisors approved a budget of $1.19 billion, an increase over the previous year’s budget of $1.15 billion. The budget also includes 50 more full-time staffers than last year, which Frapwell attributed to various grants or new programs.

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said he was disappointed that the county approved a budget that maintains current staffing levels rather than limiting spending to reflect the hardships that most county residents are enduring throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Surely there must be some non-essential employees that the county could spare instead of adding almost 50 [full-time employees] and increasing our salaries and benefits by 2.6 percent,” Adam said. “That to me is tone deaf.”

While this budget doesn’t include cuts, Frapwell said the county executive office has asked all county departments to create contingency plans that reflect how they would adjust to a 2 percent, 4 percent, and 6 percent budget reduction. Frapwell said county staff will return to the board in the fall to recommend budget adjustments if the existing recession continues. ∆

—Zac Ezzone

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