Budget Problems in Santa Barbara County

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May get squeezed in budget cutting By Erin Carlyle – Staff Writer 6/11/04 A decade ago, Santa Barbara County was funding a variety of commissions at a total cost of approximately $1 million annually. Today, the county does not keep track of how much these panels cost or how many there are. The last time the county outlined spending on commissions – a source of frequent outrage for fiscal conservatives and government watchdogs – was in a 1994 report, according to Bob Geis, the county’s auditor-controller. At that time, the county was spending $1 million on 89 committees and commissions. It’s safe to assume that costs have gone up, Geis said, but he doesn’t know how much. There is no centralized list of current commissions and committees, he said. “How many have gone away and how many we have today we just don’t know exactly,” Geis said. “There’s definitely been committees since 1994 that have gone out of existence, and there’s definitely new committees.” As the county Board of Supervisors grapples with a $630.8 million budget amid cuts from the state and requests for more money from local health and public-safety departments, North County supervisors Wednesday pointed to the commissions as a possible place to squeeze. Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray said she is certain there are commissions that can be eliminated or consolidated, and suggested the Affirmative Action and Human Relations commissions be combined, a sentiment echoed by 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno. A non-mandated panel that costs the county nearly $200,000, the Human Relations Commission is a frequent target of fiscal conservatives. Among the commission’s projects are an annual hate-crime report and workshops for law enforcement, educators, community organizations, and victim advocates, and an award ceremony recognizing effective human relations practices throughout the county. “I’m wondering if we can take money from Human Relations Commission and make the D.A.R.E. officers whole,” Gray said. The Sheriff’s Department is asking for $443,000 to fund three deputies who provide the drug prevention program in county schools. Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business, said he was glad to see the supervisors mention the Human Relations Commission – a program he has frequently called “fluff.” But the program has supporters, including 2nd District Supervisor Susan Rose, who says the work is important. “I do believe in it because its mandate is to deal with issues of violence and hate and discrimination, which still exist in our community,” Rose said. Rose suggested not filling a vacant clerical staff position for the commission to save about $40,000, and said she is open to combining it with the Affirmative Action Commission. “I think (committee spending) is pretty much a phantom in terms of the bigger issues,” said Mike Brown, county administrator. “It’s not like the state where they have a whole bunch of these commissions and people get $100,000 a year. Most of ours overwhelmingly are lay-citizen commissions that do a lot of volunteering for free.” Ten years ago, 10 of the commissions – including the Human Services, Parks, Human Relations, and Planning commissions – cost the county $697,699 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1994. Some commissions cost the county nothing. Others ranged from $500 to the most expensive, the Human Services Commission, at $177,451. The real cost of commissions is staff time, Brown said, and the 1994 report supports that view. Staff writer Erin Carlyle can be reached at 739-2218 or by e-mail at ecarlyle@pulitzer.net. But according to that document, even if the commissions were eliminated, the staff time wouldn’t go away, because staff do other projects as well. In the meantime, the county has only 10-years-old list to refer to when thinking about restructuring commissions. Geis said he did not know how many of the current committees are mandated by the federal or state government, and how many of them are up to the board’s discretion. Ten years ago, 16 of the 89 committees were mandated by the state or federal government. “The last time, we did all the work and we didn’t eliminate any committees,” Geis said. “It’s been a perennial question in every jurisdiction where I work,” Brown said. “Berkeley, a 10-square mile city, had as many commissions as (the county) has. They eliminated a bunch of them … and within a year they were all back.” Staff writer Erin Carlyle

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