Watching government budget hearings could be described as having the same excitement value as watching paint dry or grass grow. The action is tediously slow and often mind-numbing.
On the other hand, budget hearings could also be described as among the most important functions of a government.
Having the person you voted into office decide how your tax dollars will be spent is likely the No. 1 reason you voted for that candidate in the first place. There can be other, ideological reasons, but deciding on government spending is why those folks are in the spotlight in a very public arena.
The tedium and the importance were both on full display Monday when the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors held the first of a series of budget hearings, the purpose of which is to decide how your tax dollars will be allocated for county programs and services in the 2018-19 fiscal period.
If you want to watch paint dry, grass grow and get a first-class education on government spending inclinations, the budget workshops continue on Wednesday and Friday, beginning at 9 a.m. in the Board Hearing Room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building at 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.
North County residents unable to attend the workshops in person can watch the show — and provide input — via the remote video system in the board’s Conference Room at the Betteravia Government Center, 511 E. Lakeside Parkway in Santa Maria.
The actual budget-approval process will take weeks, with a recommended budget plan due in May, and final approval by the board in mid-June — assuming board members can reach agreement on the proposed spending plan.
That last part may not be easy. The workshops involve hearing what each county department needs in the way of funding in 2018-19. Board members will consider draft budget plans from all of the county’ departments, including public-safety components whose overall needs grow along with the population and a changing climate that produces more fire and rain.
There are a lot of competing wants and needs in those department requests, and the board must wade through it all to reach a passable final budget. That part is never easy.
There is an extra hurdle for this budget process — dealing with the financial aftermath of the Thomas fire and subsequent inundation of a wide swath of property through the heart of Montecito.
As of a few weeks ago, county officials estimated the cost of responding to and recovering from the fire and debris flow was more than $55 million, with the county’s share being about $12.3 million, give or take, after federal disaster funding is applied.
The county continues to battle red-ink budgeting, and that does not include unfunded retiree benefit mandates, and the multi-million-dollar backlog of deferred maintenance.
All of which contributes to the potential for an overall reduction in county programs and services, something for which county residents must be prepared financially and emotionally.
The urgency to find more revenue puts emphasis on the need to attract new commerce, which in the county’s case may involve fostering an expanding marijuana industry.
The need for additional money is underlined by the fact that nearly three-quarters of the county’s revenue is restricted to specified services. The discretionary part of the budget makes available only about 30 percent of the revenue stream.
It may seem like drying paint or growing grass to some, but budgeting is among the most crucial functions of government, at any level.