Santa Barbara County Tax Collector Says General Services Severely Underfunded
Santa Barbara County Collector-Treasurer Harry E. Hagen, in his own words, generally tries to make his presentations positive and upbeat. But in a year when his department is mired in its toughest fiscal situation since the Great Recession, Hagen took a different course in an April 11 meeting with the oversight board. “This time I’m going to have to do things a little differently,” he told the board. “I appreciate each and every one of you, so I think you can handle what I’m about to tell you.”
Throughout the hearing, Hagen insisted that the Department of General Government and Support Services was severely underfunded by the county, with a structural budget deficit forcing the department to make tough choices. Over the past year, General Government and Support Services have had to lay off almost 10% of their staff in the offices of Veterans Services, Treasury Tax, Information Technology and Administration. public. Due to the shortage of positions, many people in the department work two jobs at the same time.
According to Hagen, multiple issues prevent the ministry from receiving the necessary funding. Chief among these is that whenever the department has a negotiated and approved increase in salaries and benefits, it only receives about half of the increase in its General Fund Contribution (GFC); the ministry itself is expected to make up the difference with other sources of revenue, such as collecting cannabis taxes, a concept Hagen likened to “death by a thousand cuts.” The method of collecting these sources of revenue cannot be adjusted according to the needs of the ministry, because the changes proposed by any ministry must go through a judicial process.
“We are not reimbursed for any materials used for tax collection,” Hagen said. “As for our [GFC]we only received $6,800 for [cannabis] license and $33,000 for treasury tax and audit over four years – but that only scratches the surface. The software alone costs $16,000 in a single year. Without the necessary funds, it is more difficult for the ministry to tax and account for cannabis growers as well as other taxable entities, such as bed and breakfasts.
This year, General Administration and Support Services did not have to make any reductions in service. Still, Hagen warned that if trends continue, the department could be forced to make cuts the following year. Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson suggested that Hagen was a “victim of his own success”, due to the latter’s insight into running his department. Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino didn’t seem to expect such a grim assessment of the situation. “I think you did well not to ask [for funds] when other people asked a lot,” he said. “When I look at the report and see that there has been no reduction in service, I feel like things are moving in the right direction…but it seems your view is very different from what your report shows me.”
“The question that should have been asked of us is how much funding the county gave from the budget,” Hagen replied. “The budget is there, but the funding doesn’t necessarily come with it; it comes when it is determined that I need it. Because the funding did not come, these posts [in Veterans’ Services, Treasury Tax, etc.] was eliminated. Hagen and budget division officials were scheduled to meet on Monday to clarify any differences, but a last-minute scheduling conflict forced budget officials to postpone.
“This question sounds like a complicated accounting thing,” Lavagnino said, perhaps speaking for most observers. “There seems to have been a misunderstanding, but I’m glad you’re meeting to work out a firm budget.”
Hagen submitted two expansion requests to the Board of Overseers – $329,100 in GFC to fund three Veterans Services Representatives (VSRs) in addition to the two currently working in the county and $208,700 to fund more audits of the transitional occupancy tax. The Board of Supervisors also heard comments from Veterans Advisory Board Chairman Alvin Salge and Iraq War veteran Alejandra Sanchez; the latter suffers from PTSD and a neurological condition due to chemical exposure while on duty. Both spoke in favor of increased funding for Veterans Services Representatives (VSRs).
Sanchez, who applied for help in February 2021 but had to wait more than a year, said his condition had deteriorated while waiting. “Without the VSRs, I wouldn’t have been oriented towards the patient experience at all… two VSRs wouldn’t be enough; every office needs a backup.
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann and Hagen also shared concerns about the lack of office space for veterans to talk to social workers privately.
“I’m sorry if I picked a few scabs,” Hagen concluded. “But something had to be said, even if it’s a bit out of character.”
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