Cannabis tax revenues should go to enforcement first and foremost, deferred maintenance work must be addressed, parks should be generating revenue and grant funds should be secured to upgrade public safety communications, according to budget priorities given to staff Tuesday by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
The priorities are issues the staff will keep in mind as preliminary budget proposals are put together in preparation for budget workshops scheduled for April.
While board members agreed on most of those issues, there were divisions on other potential priority uses for the county’s limited funds and something of a philosophical rift in securing more revenues to cover escalating costs and deficits looming for future budgets.
In a report to the board, Assistant County Administrator Jeff Frapwell listed the major one-time funding needs facing the county, with deferred maintenance topping the list at an estimated $438 million, followed by the replacement of the public safety communications system at $50 million.
While the cost for renovating the Main Jail was listed as “under review,” a number of other related expenses were on the top 10 list.
Those included $1.35 million for the upgrade and replacement of the electronic security system and closed-circuit TV at the Main Jail, more than $1.33 million for replacing and providing redundancy for the sheriff’s data center and $1.1 million for in-car video and computer system replacement.
Solar projects were also on the list to the tune of $4.5 million, along with two new items — $2 million for technology replacement and investment fund and $500,000 for moving the county’s website to a cloud-based system.
“That deferred maintenance number is shocking,” said 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam, who has made maintaining the county’s infrastructure an ongoing quest. “I don’t think that accurately reflects the damage to our buildings.
“What will that number be when we finally take an action?” he asked. “This number will never stop growing.”
First District Supervisor Das Williams agreed.
“I do think it is time to take action on deferred maintenance and other needs,” Williams said, adding that recent disasters showed that it’s not only the deferred maintenance they know about but also the deferred maintenance they don’t know about.
But he said there will “probably never be enough (money) to address deferred maintenance and infrastructure costs unless we go out for a tax.”
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann wanted to see the county continue to put 18 percent toward the deferred maintenance fund, even though Adam said that was inadequate to address the needs.
Supervisors also put the public safety communications system replacement high on the list of priorities, a project that could be grant funded, although it was also on a list of projects qualified for debt financing.
“We know that equipment we’re using at this point is obsolete, and we have to go after that,” Adam said, calling the replacement absolutely mandatory.
Hartmann said that should be one of the board’s priorities for lobbying at the state legislative level.
Board Chairman and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino noted “the price tag is so huge, we have to go out and get grant funds.”
Cannabis enforcement also received universal support.
“I want to give the enforcement team all that it needs,” Williams said.
Adam added, “All of the (cannabis tax) money can go to enforcement, as far as I’m concerned, until that’s satisfied.”
Lavagnino said the county put together a really aggressive enforcement team that has been successful, but he asked to see a report comparing seizures before the team was formed with those after it was formed.
He also said the estimates of 3- to 5-percent increases in cannabis tax revenues may be too low, noting that so far it’s all come from cultivation.
“We haven’t even gotten into retail yet,” he said.
On the revenue side, Adam criticized the board for failing to approve projects that would bring in tax money, specifically citing oil projects and two other developments, one that would have resulted in only nine houses but of very high value.
“These are things we have to say ‘yes’ to,” he said.
But both Williams and Hartmann had ideas for other revenue sources.
Hartmann said she would like the staff to come back with a comprehensive recreation plan to deal with facilities issues at parks using money saved on salaries by the Community Development Department.
“We should use those assets to generate revenues,” she said.
Williams wanted the staff to get moving on a project that had seemed to stall and hadn’t had the outcome he expected.
“We really should prioritize and push for farmstay ordinances,” he said, because farmstays would generate transient occupancy tax revenues. “As I understand it now, nobody can do a farmstay because we haven’t written an ordinance.”
Hartmann said she, too, is “eager to get that on a fast track.”
Lavagnino cautioned the board about trying to come up with funds to pay for everything.
“The reality is there’s never enough money when you’re sitting up here,” he said. “We’re never, never, never going to have enough money.
“Don’t try to raise enough revenue to meet all our needs,” he added, pointing out there will always be 20 more projects that need to be done.