Archive » April 7, 2011
SUPERVISORS EXPLORE COST-CUTTING DEPARTMENT CONSOLIDATION
By Jeremy Foster, Staff Writer
A step toward consolidating county departments appeared on the near horizon after Board of Supervisors met on Tuesday.
Supervisors heard a staff presentation about a cost-cutting move to create new Community Services Department that would subsume the Parks and Housing and the Community Development departments, which is expected to save the county $555,800 annually, according to Dennis Bozanich, assistant to the county executive officer. The savings would come from the elimination of positions for a department director, an administrative assistant, a grants manager and a cost-analyst manager.
“We’re moving forward with this primarily to help us create some stable leadership within this department,” Bozanich noted. “Several of these departments have been operating with interim leadership over the last several months.”
The proposal was spearheaded by county CEO Chandra Wallar, who recommended that the board transfer Animal Services, currently in the Public Health Department, to the new department. Her plan also calls for the county to search for a director for the new department.
According to the board letter, the CEO’s recommendations “would streamline county government by reducing the number of departments, eliminating duplicative positions/services, and provide a department focused on the delivery of key community services such as parks and beaches, housing and community development, libraries, human services and the arts.”
Bozanich said the decision to create the department is a part of a county directive to explore options for streamlining county government. He noted the latest change would be the first of “other reorganization proposals that will be before your board over the next several weeks.”
The board made no decision because Supervisor Janet Wolf was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting due to the death of her father. First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said he was generally supportive of the proposal, but he noted he received phone calls from constituents concerned about lumping Animal Services into the new department.
“If it’s kicking up smoke, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “So you’ve got to convince me that Animal Services is going to yield some kind of savings and efficiency for me to support that division to be reorganized.”
Andy Caldwell, director of Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, suggested existing departments should manage more services instead of creating a new department. He suggested the supervisors put county parks under the Public Works Department, move Animal Services under the administration of Public Safety, assign library services to the cities and eliminate the county Arts Commission.
He also suggested more department heads follow the lead of Tom Fayram, temporary director of the Parks Department, who he said has privatized some positions to save money.
“We are concerned that just in a couple of months, we’re going to have an unveiling of the massive cuts. Some people are saying the county could lose hundreds of employees,” he said. “We think you need the whole picture before you start rearranging the positions of the chairs on the deck.”
The board continued the discussion to its next meeting in Santa Maria. The subject of the county’s alternatives for retirement plans will also be discussed.
In other news, a bill 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino helped with that would have ensured that any state-funded benefits do not go to people who are in the state illegally was shot down in the Legislature.
Lavagnino provided input to Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, on Assembly Bill 1018, that would have required city, county and state employees to verify the legal status of applicants who request benefits through the United States Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program.
On Tuesday, the bill failed to advance beyond the Assembly Judiciary Committee where it was defeated on a 7-3 vote. “There’s room to build support on some of those provisions,” Donnelly, a state Minuteman founder, told the Associated Press. “Just because we lost in one committee, doesn’t mean the problem goes away.”
In a written statement released before Tuesday’s vote, Donnelly said he was grateful for Lavagnino’s “commitment to upholding the rule of law and protecting taxpayer dollars in Santa Barbara County and across the state.
Lavagnino was not available for comment before press deadline, but Cory Bantilan, his chief of staff, told the Journal the bill’s defeat “wasn’t unexpected” and that Lavagnino would introduce similar legislation at the county level sometime this year.
The 5th district supervisor told the Journal in December that he would work with other county officials to implement an E-Verification system for those drawing county benefits and would discuss the feasibility of implementing the system with CEO Chandra Wallar.
First District Salud Carbajal said he’d have to see Lavagnino’s proposal before he gave it his blessing. He added that the state and county already have systems in place to ensure the eligibility of residents who are applying for taxpayer-funded benefits. “I’m going to ask Steve to show me the problem with data and what solutions he’s proposing,” Carbajal added. “If that’s done, let’s see what happens.”