A 2021-22 budget was approved June 8 by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in only the second unanimous vote in nearly a decade, although not everyone got what they wanted in the $1.35 billion spending plan.
Supervisors declined to pull $26.7 million from the Sheriff’s Office budget and give it to programs to promote racial equity in law enforcement, as called for by several members of the public who spoke.
While it allocated $21 million to upgrade the Main Jail, which several public speakers also opposed, the budget did include a $500,000 set-aside for spending on racial equity and inclusion initiatives.
The budget also included more than $12 million for homeless services, $14 million in rental assistance programs and $3.2 million to help those with mental health issues.
“I think we’ve taken care of some investments in the future and made investments in human beings,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said.
It also included funds to scratch the highest priority capital improvement projects off a list that included $30 million for a new Probation Department headquarters, $45 million to upgrade the public safety radio system and $12 million for recreational vehicle campsites at Cachuma Lake.
Board members added nearly $7 million, most of it from cannabis tax revenues, for additional one-time expenses in addition to cannabis money that was allocated for ongoing uses.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said that he had intended to vote “no” on the budget because he was adamant that cannabis tax revenues should be used on one-time expenses, but by June 8 he’d changed his mind.
“Cannabis … when it gets to the budget is just a lifesaver,” he said, noting the projected $20 million in revenue, at only one-third the cap on cultivation acreage, is completely discretionary general fund money.
He noted that to equal that revenue, the county would need 3,100 oil wells pumping 77,000 barrels per day or another six hotels equivalent to the Miramar on the South Coast or 6,000 new homes valued at $1.5 million each in the Santa Ynez Valley or 16,000 new homes valued at $600,000 each in Orcutt.
North County will benefit from some of the expenditures added by the board, including the only request Lavagnino made — an allocation of $1.5 million to Santa Maria’s effort to build a youth recreation center on the west side of town.
Another $2 million was allocated for parks, trails and open space acquisition for the North County, balancing $1.5 million the board approved recently to help acquire open space on the South Coast.
In addition, $1.25 million was directed toward “mobility” projects in each district, which could include Safe Routes to School improvements, widening of narrow roads in rural areas, adding bicycle lanes and similar projects.
“This budget accomplished one of the goals we’ve had for nine years,” said 4th District Supervisor and Chairman Bob Nelson.
Funds allocated for roadway maintenance and rehabilitation will take the county’s average pavement condition index, referred to as the PCI, up from 56 to potentially 57, staff said. In previous years, officials merely hoped to keep the PCI from dropping
Nelson noted the budget will allow the county to pay down its unfunded liabilities for employee retirement by more than $500,000.
Supervisors also wrangled over whether to spend $182,000 to hire a planner, $705,000 for a full planning team or some amount in between to help with cannabis issues in the Planning and Development Department.
In the end, they following Planning Director Lisa Plowman’s recommendation to go with the lower number.