Winter is coming to a close, spring is near, and that means the budget wars are about to begin in Santa Barbara County.
Members of the Board of Supervisors rattled off some early shots last week, meeting to discuss priorities for the budget workshops that will begin next month. As usual, there were some differences of opinion.
Also as usual for the past few years, 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam’s first volley was his annual plea for more funding to take care of the county’s deferred maintenance backlog. After two terms in office, Adam has decided not to seek re-election, so this may be his last rodeo, but the deferred-maintenance issue will not exit with him.
In a report to the board at last week’s meeting, Assistant County Administrator Jeff Frapwell listed deferred maintenance as No. 1 on the list of big-ticket items facing the board, at an estimated $438 million. Next on Frapwell’s list was replacement of the county’s public-safety communications system, at about $50 million.
The problem is — and this is always the problem — the county doesn’t produce the level of revenue needed to address all of the county’s financial needs. For example, fixing everything now that needs fixing in the deferred-maintenance category would pretty much bankrupt county government.
The board has addressed that in the past by devoting a set percentage of revenue to doing the maintenance, a strategy that has left Adam less than satisfied. Fiscal conservatives can only hope that whoever replaces Adam on the board will share the supervisor’s zeal for whittling down the maintenance problem.
There won’t be any outside financial assistance on the maintenance, but there could be with regard to updating the county’s obsolete public-safety communications system. As there also could be outside help with the $2.5-million updating of county government’s overall technology, which includes making the county’s website a cloud-based system. It would be nice if the county could join most of the rest of us, in a communications technology sense, here in the 21st century.
But the maintenance issue remains the elephant in the room, simply because of its overwhelming size. And for the second time in recent days, there was agreement between 1st District Supervisor Das Williams and Adam on the severity of the problem. Williams backed Adam’s demand that the issue be more directly addressed, pointing out that recent natural disasters underlined the need for upgrading the county’s holdings.
Williams even brought up a subject normally taboo in preliminary budget discussions — the possibility of raising taxes. That’s a realistic outlook, if the county truly wants to put a dent in the deferred-maintenance problem.
Another big-ticket item sure to be part of the budget-setting talks is what to do with revenues from legal cannabis operations, which are coming in at a trickle now, but will accelerate when the retail segment of the industry gets into full swing.
Adam hinted that the bulk of the revenue from cannabis should be directed to public-safety operations, which is reasonable, given that the voters’ legalizing the growing, sale and use of marijuana products has not, and likely will not stop illegal, unlicensed marijuana operations.
Board chairman and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino summed up the very pervasive problem facing the board: “The reality is there’s never enough money when you’re sitting up here. We’re never, never, never going to have enough money. …”
That’s because, when it comes to government at every level, there will always be 20 more projects that need to be done.