It must be frustrating for Peter Adam that he has spent the better part of eight years as Santa Barbara County’s 4th District supervisor, but has not managed to convince fellow board members that fiscal responsibility when it comes to deferred maintenance is part of the job description.
Maybe that’s why Adam, whose family has lived and farmed in the Santa Maria Valley since the mid-1800s, decided that two terms on the board is enough. We never for a moment thought Adam would turn into one of those politicians who win an election, then hang on until time and/or circumstances pries them out of their seat. That happens far too often, and is one of the major problems with modern politics.
The board passed a 2019-20 budget a few days ago, and once again there is only a fraction of the money needed to catch up with deferred maintenance on county-owned and managed property.
Adam was elected in 2012, and from the beginning has trumpeted, often, the fiscal-responsibility theme. It’s his political mantra. The county was hundreds of millions of dollars behind on maintenance in 2012, and it remains buried deep in that hole.
Santa Barbara County’s libraries were “saved,” cannabis taxes will be audited and longtime deficiencies in the district attorney’s Santa Maria office will be dealt with as a result of allocations made Tuesday in the final 2019-20 budget adopted by the Board of Supervisors. In a hearing lasting about three hours and 15 minutes, supervisors hashed out revisions to the staff-recommended budget and approved the final result on a 4-1 vote, with 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting.
The approved budget does some fiscally solid and responsible things, but virtually ignores two very big issues shadowing every board meeting — the deferred maintenance backlog, and county government’s mandated-but-unfunded pension liability.
Adam couldn’t seem to dim other board members’ enthusiasm for the budget that was approved. The final $1-billion-plus plan has a little something for almost everyone, but not enough for those aforementioned maintenance and pension issues.
To be fair, this board faces some unique money problems, namely the factoring in of cannabis revenues from the county’s newest and perhaps one of its most promising industries. County officials expect $5.6 million in tax/fee revenues from cannabis operators this year but a chunk of that extra money will go to law enforcement and other compliance agencies.
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There also is the unknown of whether the illegal marijuana operations can be convinced to disband. Even though recreational use of marijuana is now legal statewide, there remains an active black market for the product. Policing that market will be expensive.
Board Chairman and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino was generally pleased with the budget process, which got wrapped up in a one-day board session. He initially pushed back against the idea of getting the budget approved so quickly, but the truth is county staff did a lot of the hard, up-front work in the trenches, so when the document got to the board, all it needed was some tweaks.
Another $14,699 was allocated to Cabrillo High School’s recommended Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund grant Tuesday by the Santa Barbara Count…
That process shows a lot of fiscal responsibility, but Supervisor Adam was correct in objecting to the paltry sum allocated to deal with deferred maintenance projects. In fact, it was more or less the same tune he was singing while on the campaign trail before the 2012 election, in which he unseated seemingly-entrenched 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray.
We can never really be certain how this will eventually play out after Adam leaves the board, but we can guess that if the supervisor’s choice for a replacement — his own chief of staff, Bob Nelson — wins the 4th District election, the deferred maintenance issue will stay front and center when the board starts discussing money matters.
Balancing budgets in an era when governments at every level struggle to make ends meet will always be a challenge, but it is a challenge that eventually must be confronted and overcome. Pushing the problem into the future is rarely the smart fiscal decision.