Santa Barbara County finished the 2019-20 fiscal year with its general fund $3.8 million in the black, although the surplus was considerably less than last year’s $8 million balance as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report delivered Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors.
Special revenue funds are not included in the report, as they are required to end the year with balanced budgets, and only budget variances of $200,000 or more, either over or under, are reported.
General revenue was $6.5 million more than anticipated, and several departments ended the fiscal year with fund balances, although those were offset by deficits in a few other departments, the report said.
The increase in general revenue was primarily the result of an unexpected additional $3 million in property taxes, $2 million more from payments in lieu of taxes, $1.1 million in redevelopment agency distributions and $1.1 million more than budgeted for interest income, the report said.
But COVID-19 hit the tourism and hospitality industry hard enough to reduce the expected transient occupancy taxes by $3 million, effectively canceling the additional property tax revenue.
The pandemic was at least partly to blame for pushing a few entire departments into the red.
For example, COVID-19 brought revenue losses and increased costs to both the Public Health and Behavioral Wellness departments, but they used $2 million and $6 million, respectively, from their departmental fund balances to cover the shortfalls.
The Parks Division had a loss of $716,000, mainly as a result of the pandemic keeping people at home, which led to decreased camping and hookup fees and affected concessions and group activities, according to the report.
However, the drop in revenue was partially offset by a departmental fund balance, leaving the final budget overrun at $398,000.
Perhaps the most notable overrun was for the Sheriff’s Office, which was $4.4 million over its budget, a big jump from the $1.1 million deficit reported the previous fiscal year.
While $115,000 in lost revenue caused by COVID-19 and $150,000 spent on supplies and services to respond to the pandemic were contributing factors, the biggest impact to the Sheriff’s Office budget came from overtime costs not offset by salary savings, the report said.
Overtime costs were racked up by 35,000 hours spent training new staff who are paid but can’t cover a post without supervision, 75,200 hours to maintain minimum staffing levels and 19,000 hours to backfill positions of sworn officers on worker’s compensation due to injuries.
Additional overtime costs included $513,000 spent for responding to the pandemic and $740,000 for responding to disasters and providing mutual aid to other agencies, according to the report.
Other major factors were less revenue than anticipated from cannabis business licenses, unanticipated costs for investigations and guarding inmates transported to the hospital, less money collected in charges for services and reduced funds from state and federal sources.
Cannabis appeals constituted the biggest factor in the Planning and Development Department missing its budget mark by $229,000, according to the report.
While a fixed filing fee paid by appellants provides some offset, the remaining cost for additional staff time required by cannabis cultivation permit appeals is not covered by permit application fees, the report said.
Because the cost is considered unrecoverable by the department, the general fund covered the budget overrun.
The general fund also kicked in $500,000 for Courts Special Services to cover a loss of revenue plus increased expenses for defending indigent suspects, particularly the multiple defendants resulting from the Operation Matador investigation into MS-13 gang activities.
On the plus side, several departments had funds left over — the Auditor-Controller’s Office with $700,000 and the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office with $607,000, in both cases the result of salary savings from unfilled positions, the report said.
Staffing vacancies also generated $2.6 million in savings for the Probation Department, but that was offset by $1.8 million in reduced revenue from the state and from charges for services to leave the department with a budget surplus of $851,000.
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