Revenues coming in higher than anticipated in Santa Barbara County’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget indicate the General Fund could have a $4.9 million surplus come June 30, according to a midyear financial report to the Board of Supervisors.
All the departmental budgets are largely in line, sales tax revenues were stronger than expected and funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act have help offset increased costs associated with the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Nancy Anderson, assistant county executive officer.
Paul Clementi, the county’s principal budget analyst, said the projected year-end surplus is based on a predicted $3 million in additional revenues and budget savings of $1.7 million by the Probation Department and $331,000 by the Community Services Department.
But that $5.3 million, plus surpluses in several other departments, will be offset by projected deficits of $718,000 in the Sheriff’s Office budget and smaller amounts in a few other departments.
Clementi also noted the CARES Act may reimburse the county for the Sheriff’s Office costs of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes an increase in overtime expenses.
General revenues that exceeded those expected when the budget was crafted last year include secured property taxes by more than $3.5 million, cannabis taxes by nearly $3.4 million, property transfer taxes by almost $2.5 million and sales taxes by more than $1.7 million.
“I’m going to pass this opportunity to speak on cannabis tax revenue and let that speak for itself,” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who has previously responded to critics of commercial cannabis by pointing out how the taxes it generates have helped maintain county services.
But others didn’t let the opportunity pass.
“Cannabis has saved public services,” said 1st District Supervisor Das Williams, who said the county’s financial experience this year is “wildly different” from that of other jurisdictions.
He agreed with 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann’s suggestion that at least part of cannabis tax revenues be considered a permanent source, rather than “one-time funds” spent on various services as needed.
Williams specifically pointed out the unfunded needs of the county’s libraries, which were largely covered by cannabis revenues, are an ongoing expense.
County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato said the board will hear a report on cannabis at its meeting next week and will have several options to consider regarding the tax revenue it generates.
Overall, supervisors were encouraged by the midyear budget outlook.
“This is much, much better news that anticipated six months ago,” Hartmann said. “I had no idea it would be this good.”
But Miyasato cast a damp blanket over the picture when she pointed out the majority of the county’s revenue comes from property taxes, which are affected by the health of the state’s economy.
“Just a reminder, the state is doing well, but that’s not always the case,” she said.