Monday, February 25, 2008

Supes unveil $26 million deficit, will consider massive cuts


The Board of Supervisors took a detailed look yesterday at a projected $26 million budget deficit facing Santa Barbara County that could require all county departments to slash their 2008-2009 budgets by more than 5 percent.
“We have no choice but to address these very real problems,” said Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone. “We’re dealing with some financial realities here that are very, very tough. “I think we’re all going to be concerned but we have to face realities.”

One of the big realities Firestone referenced was a projected $16 million increase to the county’s retirement system, which according to a budget report presented to the board, stems from changes to how the county’s Retirement Board determines its annual need for funding.
Combine this with sharply rising costs of about $10 million associated with regular operating costs and decreasing revenues, and the consensus of the board is that there is little it can do to balance its budget without making major cuts.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, the board’s chairman, said the cuts discussed so far are not set in stone and will most likely change during the June budget sessions.
“These are just concepts,” Carbajal said. “We are going to revisit these concepts and then make hard decisions.
“We’re looking at a whole menu of solutions to shore up and create the least amount of pain in reduction and services.”
Carbajal said a 5 percent cut to every department would yield about $10 million to put towards the deficit, while the mere balancing of individual department budgets before a mandated cut would provide the remaining $16 million.
But such cuts, if eventually enacted, would likely be tough to weather for many county departments, some of which were represented by department heads at yesterday’s meeting.
For the Public Defender’s office, the report said that taken together, these two cuts would mean a reduction of $1.3 million in operating expenses and the loss of nine full time positions.
Gregory C. Paraskou, head of the Public Defender’s Office, said this type of cut could end up costing the county more money down the road because the court requires that defendants have legal representation. When the Public Defender can’t provide that, he said the court hires outside and oftentimes has to pay market rate, which could top $350 per hour.
After Superior Court Executive Officer Gary Blair echoed Paraskou’s comments and attempted to spell out the consequences to the court if such cuts were made, Firestone reminded the department heads in attendance that times are changing.
“These departments have to understand that this is not business as usual,” he said. “I think we’re going to need more cooperation from these departments.”
As the cuts stand, the District Attorney’s Office could lose as many as 18.5 full-time positions and cut $1.8 million from its budget, while the Probation Department would be forced to cut $3.8 million and lose 31.9 full-time positions.
The Sheriff’s Department would take the biggest hit, losing 64.3 full-time positions and $4.8 million of its operating budget.
Other impacted departments include Public Health, which could lose 24 full-time positions and cut $1.6 million from its budget, while the department of Planning and Development could lose 6.8 full-time employees and cut $550,00.
Carbajal stressed that the cuts to certain departments will be far less than the current numbers suggest, and he has full faith that the board and the county’s executive office will come up with creative solutions to minimize the severity of the cuts.
“You deal with crisis based on priorities and I think that’s what we’re going to have to do,” Carbajal said, noting that his focus will be to ensure the county’s most vulnerable residents are the least affected.
He said the board will investigate a number of alternatives to making personnel cuts, such as early retirement programs. The report also outlines a number of annual expenditures totaling more than $12 million that the board could possibly eliminate.
One example would be to discontinue the publication of a county department phone directory, which costs $18,000 each year.
The board voted unanimously to give county CEO Mike Brown the green light to draft the county’s budget based on the projected cuts. This document will be presented to the board in June and the details will be hammered out then.
“It’s painful,” Carbajal said. “It’s going to hurt and we’re going to come up with some priorities in June.”
The entire report is available at

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