Local News

Feb 22, 2010 11:24 PM by Ariel Wesler

County supervisors looking at massive budget cuts

$40 million. That's how much red ink Santa Barbara County leaders are dealing with and massive layoffs are possible.

The county's deficit makes up about 20 percent of the its 200 million dollar budget. County officials blame the majority of the deficit on rising costs. In total, they're asking department leaders to slash more than $50 dollars to keep the county above water.

While the sheriff's department could be hit the hardest, county fire is a close second. It must cut $7 million dollars from its budget. The worst-case scenario for them means understaffing the Orcutt Fire station, cutting fire prevention inspections, investigations, and emergency medical training. For fire or other natural disasters, only one bulldozer operator would remain to draw a fire line. Fixing vehicles and buildings would likely be delayed.

With almost half of the county's budget going towards public safety, that's where cuts are likely to begin.
All department heads must slash a combined $52 million dollars. That's equal to 392 employees, nearly 10 percent of all county workers.

"The only tool that the board has is basically layoffs because this is a big fish, this isn't a million dollar fish. It's a big fish," said Joni Gray, 4th District Santa Barbara County Supervisor.

As tax revenue flatlines, some say higher salaries and employee and retirement benefits are costing the county millions more.

"Just in benefits that are owed, we're looking at right around 20 million dollars," Gray said.

"There's no need in my opinion to go after retirement at this point in time. I think they've painted a picture that's not really the full picture, said Mick Robinson, a 26-year appraiser for the county.

The county hopes more budget workshops will bring it all into focus.

If you'd like to attend, the budget meeting is expected to start tomorrow at 10 a-m at the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria.

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