A balanced budget was approved Monday by Santa Barbara County supervisors after unallocated funds were distributed to a variety projects, completing in one day a task that in the past has taken as many as three days of hearings.
Santa Maria and Orcutt residents will see benefits from a previously unfunded project — the Union Valley Parkway extension — that will receive money in the 2018-19 budget.
North County residents in particular will also benefit from an extra allocation to an annually underfunded project — deferred maintenance work — that will help save crumbling rural roadways.
Small libraries — four in the North County — were also winners in the board’s distribution of unallocated funds.
In recent budget cycles, 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam and residents of Orcutt and Santa Maria have unsuccessfully lobbied for connecting Union Valley Parkway to the Elks Unocal Event Center via Rodeo Drive, aka Morningside Drive.
This time, supervisors agreed to devote $155,800 from one-time revenues to get that project rolling.
The board also agreed to direct $1.1 million of unallocated one-time funds to deferred maintenance projects on roadways, buildings and other infrastructure, which Adam also has lobbied for every year.
From unallocated ongoing revenues, the board decided to spend $113,800 to help small libraries in danger of reducing hours or closing entirely — Guadalupe, Cuyama, Los Alamos, Solvang, Carpinteria and Montecito.
Another $86,200 of unallocated one-time money was set aside to come up with a better funding mechanism for the county’s libraries so the board won’t have to deal with the issue every year.
Total operating revenues of just under $1.102 billion — a 2 percent increase from the current fiscal year — and a net $2.2 million from other sources balance the total operating expenses of nearly $1.104 billion — a 2.5 percent increase from this fiscal year.
A new dissenter
As in recent years, the vote to approve the budget was 4-1. But this year, the “no” vote came from a supervisor who has reguarly voted “yes.”
Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who is retiring from the board and voted on her 12th and last budget Monday, said she was “incredibly disappointed” with the document and apologized to her constituents and county residents as a whole.
“Today we failed in being good stewards of your money,” Wolf said.
She was unhappy that a large amount of money she thought would be one-time funds was allocated to help a few small libraries on an ongoing basis.
She also didn’t like cannabis taxes included in the available revenues because there’s no precedent for how much income those will generate.
“There’s so much money in this chart we haven’t even touched, and yet we’re moving forward with money we don’t even know if we’ve got,” Wolf said, adding that on the bright side, the budget doesn’t contain any service reductions or layoffs.
“I’ve always voted for every budget because I’m an optimist, and today I’m a pessimist,” she said.
Adam, who has perennially cast a “no” vote, told Wolf being the lone holdout isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“You have always stood for your principles,” Adam told her. “I think it’s a healthy thing when someone doesn’t vote for a budget.”
On the other hand, he said voting “yes” was difficult for him.
“It’s hard to not vote ‘no’ on a budget,” Adam said. “Intellectually, I just have to vote for this. There’s been too much movement in my direction.”
That movement included support for the deferred maintenance and Union Valley Parkway extension funds.
Board Chairman and 1st District Supervisor Das Williams noted it’s hard to balance very different needs, but the board appeared to have succeeded with the 2018-19 budget.
“No one’s running the table,” Williams said. “Everyone has gotten one of their priorities taken care of, and that’s not easy to do.”
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said this year’s budget process worked better than he expected.
“This process worked out very well,” Lavagnino said. “I didn’t think we could do it in one day. It’s because you streamlined it so much. … I think this is the best budget we’ve done.”
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann echoed their comments.
“I believe it’s a very responsible budget,” Hartmann said. “It’s not like we’re spending up; we’re socking money away.”
Dividing up the funds
Supervisors had $376,200 of unallocated ongoing General Fund revenues and $3.76 million available in one time revenues — which included an adjusted estimate of $3.75 million in cannabis taxes — they could direct toward a number of unfunded or underfunded projects.
Supervisors allocated $75,000 in ongoing money to fund an ESI Team project leader to seek grants for alternative and renewable energy projects, $67,000 for a subpoena server and $120,400 for a Probation Department officer for sex offenders.
From the one-time funds, the board agreed to spend most of the money on what supervisors called the “big ticket items.”
In addition to the $1.1 million for deferred maintenance work, the board directed $1.5 million to be added to the strategic reserve fund, which the county dipped into to cover the costs of responding to the Thomas fire and the 1.9 Debris Flow.
Supervisors also allocated $150,000 to develop a clean energy roadmap and another $180,000 to come up with an ordinance favorable to the construction of utility-level solar energy projects.
The budget also includes $70,000 to rewrite the short-term rental ordinance for the Coastal Zone — the Coastal Commission rejected the initial ordinance — and $10,000 for an improved system of tracking the homeless population.
Supervisors directed that $508,000 be held in a cannabis fund.
County staff said if more tax revenue is realized from cannabis operations than estimated in the budget, the extra funds will roll over to be used in the following fiscal year, although supervisors could choose to reallocate those funds before then.
Cannabis permitting, licensing and enforcement will add 21.5 full-time equivalent employees to the county work force at a total cost of $3,297,900.
Fees will cover the costs of permitting and licensing.