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Santa Maria City leaders to discuss $4.3 million budget shortfall

City of Santa Maria to hand out free environmentally friendly items for Earth Day.
Posted at 9:17 AM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 12:17:50-04

For the 12th year in a row, Santa Maria is facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit - a situation only worsened by the pandemic.

City Council members on Tuesday will discuss a $4.3 million shortfall this coming year.

Some of the biggest impacts could be to fire and police departments.

As of right now, there are reportedly no funds to hire more police officers and if the financial situation doesn’t get better, five firefighters could lose their jobs

Before COVID-19, Santa Maria's 2020-21 general fund deficit was projected to be $929,000. With COVID-19, it swelled to $4.3 million.

Services like public safety are taking a hit -- the City proposing a hiring freeze for the police department and cutting five firefighter positions and one engine over the next two years.

“At a time when the public is relying so heavily on emergency health care workers, to reduce that number at this stage is not the direction we should go,” said Matthew Chircop, International Association of Firefighters Local 2020 president, adding, “We are jeopardizing our current $1.6 million dollar grant and we are jeopardizing also future grants."

Others are concerned about the impact to wildfire response.

“I don't think this is a good time right now because summertime is coming as far as firefighters,” said Nathaniel Reneau, Santa Maria resident.

As people spend less money, tax revenues, one of the biggest contributors to the City's general fund, are expected to decrease by 5.3%.

Measure U, a $.01 sales tax passed in 2018, primarily funds public safety, but right now isn't living up to its purpose.

City leaders plan to take millions from a "rainy day" emergency fund, but realize it's just a Band-Aid.

“We had $11.7 million in there and during the recession, we had to take some money out and we are down almost at the bottom,” said Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino.

On top of possible public safety cuts, more than 20 capital improvement projects could be halted due to lack of funding.

"We went to different departments and asked where they could make cuts, and the cuts are going to be deep,” Patino said.

The City is also proposing to keep the public library closed through September and the City pool closed until next January.

City Council members will discuss the budget and its impacts during the meeting Tuesday at 5:30.