Air board poised to approve budget

The county Air Pollution Control District board of directors is expected Wednesday to approve a nearly $4.4 million budget for the new fiscal year.

Although the district’s budget is balanced, the agency faces funding shortfalls over the next five years that could grow to $655,000 a year. The district has also come under criticism for the salary of its top executive, Larry Allen, which with benefits is worth some $240,000 a year.

The air board held an initial hearing on the budget in May. Budget projections have not changed since then and no new public comments have been received, Allen said in a report to the board.

Wages and benefits of 23.5 employees account for 71 percent of the district’s budget. The staff carries out a variety of state legislative mandates to improve air quality. Most of the district’s revenue comes from a variety of fees, including Department of Motor Vehicle registration fees.

Several air district programs in recent years have generated considerable controversy. These include dust-control rules for Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area and state-mandated requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global climate change.

The district’s budget for the new fiscal year is 8 percent smaller than last year’s budget. However, workloads are expected to grow in coming years as the district tries to meet unfunded mandates such as the new greenhouse gas rules.

At a meeting in May, air district board members said they will consider cost-cutting measures before resorting to increasing fees. Some belt-tightening steps the district might have to consider over the next five years include tapping into budget reserves, increasing employee contributions to pensions and prioritizing workloads.