Being a politician these days is like being a bull rider on the rodeo circuit. There are lots of highs and lows, and ultimately a few bumps and bruises.
Santa Maria City Council members — like elected policy makers everywhere — are in the low phase, as in having to make potentially unpopular fiscal decisions.
For example, the council voted 4-1 to approve the city’s next budget, for 2020-21, and members were forced to make some very tough decisions because the $217-million budget must operate on nearly $11 million less in revenues than had been expected before the COVID-19 pandemic hit us with the force of a runaway train.
While the council spent several hours debating the budget possibilities, there was a crowd of protesters outside City Hall — not inside, because of distancing requirements — clamoring for quicker opening of public facilities, specifically the library and aquatic center, plus a separate group demanding that the Police Department be overhauled. The cherry on top is that the Santa Maria Firefighters Union Local 2020 and Santa Maria Fire Department officials say budget cuts in that department create risky public-safety problems.
Most council members probably understood going into the meeting that the final budget had the potential to disappoint various groups and departments — and maybe wondered to themselves about the wisdom of being an elected public servant at this particular point in history.
Government budget deficits are a thorn in every elected officials’ hide, but local leaders have shown admirable agility when it comes to problem solving. To that end, the council asked city staff to scour the fiscal landscape to find where budgeting changes will cause the least damage. Funding adjustments can be made throughout a government’s budget cycle.
The thing Santa Marians should keep in mind is that the city is in the grips of a coronavirus pandemic, and at the same time dealing with local impacts of a wide-scale protest over police behavior. These are turbulent times with rapidly-changing situations.
The City Council seems to be taking a sensible approach to challenging, multi-faceted problems.
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