Editorials

The county (almost) has a budget. We recap the good, the bad and the in-between

dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The county’s $590 million budget has yet to be formally adopted — that happens Tuesday — but the shouting is over (we hope), along with the painstaking analysis of each department’s spending plan.

For the most part, the budget discussions that took place last week were mundane. Many ended in 5-0 votes. But the budget hearings also yielded some surprises; reopened some festering wounds; and of course, created some winners and losers.

Here are some of the highs and lows:

Biggest Winners

No surprise here. The conservative majority of Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton and John Peschong were on the winning side of some key 3-2 votes, including one that allocated $1.2 million in park and recreation fees to projects in Nipomo (Compton’s district) and $340,000 in contingency funds to hire two additional sheriff’s deputies to patrol Shandon and San Miguel (Peschong’s district).

Biggest Losers

The 75 percent of county residents who do not earn enough money to afford a median-priced home here. A proposal to dedicate $5 million to affordable housing projects — a suggestion raised by liberal supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill — got nowhere with the conservative majority.

Yes, it was a big ask. ($1 million would have been more realistic.) Also, Gibson and Hill no doubt doomed it from the start by attacking the majority supervisors for “their heedless actions during the first five months of their reign.” Apparently, efforts to shame colleagues into submission aren’t super effective — something to keep in mind the next time this comes up.

Biggest surprise:

The board increased allocations for several nonprofit organizations that do essential work in our county, from providing housing and health care to offering after-school programs and bicycle safety classes.

Here’s what was added:

▪  People’s Self-Help Housing: funding doubled to $50,000

▪  Cambria Connection: increased by $10,000, to $60,000

▪  5 Cities Homeless: increased by $10,000, to $25,000

▪  YMCA: increased by $3,000, to $15,000

▪  SLO Bike Coalition: increased by $3,000, to $8,000

▪  SLO Noor Clinic: increased by $10,000, to $185,000

▪  South County Boys & Girls Club: received $10,000

▪  SLO Museum of Art: received $5,000

Best budget tweets

Adam Hill wins hands down. Unfortunately, he has a limited number of followers on Twitter because he’s locked down his account — meaning you need his permission to follow him.

That’s too bad, because Hill’s tweets deserve a wider audience.

Here’s one concerning the budget: “What’s the point of trying to help the economically insecure in my community? Terrible Trio won’t let it happen, the press doesn’t care...”

Want to read more? Ask Adam if you can follow him @teamadamhill. The worst he can do is say no, and then you can brag that you’re an #ahillreject.

Most curious quote

Sorry, Supervisor Hill. This one goes to Gibson, who let loose during an argument — er, discussion — over the park fees allocated to Nipomo.

“I don’t know if the term is pork rolling or logrolling,” he said, “but this is pure pork headed to Nipomo to bolster Supervisor Compton’s bid for re-election in 2018.”

For the record, here’s the definition of logrolling, courtesy of Wikipedia: “Logrolling is the trading of favors, or quid pro quo, such as vote trading by legislative members to obtain passage of actions of interest to each legislative member.”

A pork roll is pork-based processed meat, which should not be confused with pork barrel, which, thanks again, Wikipedia, “is a metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district.”

Worst use of taxpayer dollars

$1 million for more housing studies aimed at addressing the affordability crisis — including $500,000 for a housing constraints analysis and another $500,000 to focus on workforce housing and secondary units.

The county already has produced reams and reams and reams of reports that say more or less the same thing: Housing’s too expensive. Allow more density. Simplify the permitting process. Reduce fees. Zone more land for housing. Encourage secondary units. Build more mobile home parks.

Many of those recommendations have been considered in the past but never implemented, often because supervisors lacked the political will to upset their NIMBY constituents.

The $1 million would be better spent on actual projects (see Biggest Losers), rather than more reports that wind up on the shelf.

Runner-up:

$2 million for state-mandated groundwater management plans in areas with depleted groundwater basins. We’ve said it before and we’re saying it again: When it comes to water, private property owners should pay their own way, just like the rest of us.

Pot holes or people?

The budget for road maintenance was boosted by $3.5 million, to $11.6 million. The groundwork for that decision was laid months ago, when Arnold proposed making road improvements a top priority.

Hill accused her of “putting potholes over people” — a great sound bite, by the way — but does this really have to be an either/or?

Can’t the county take care of its roads and its people?

Many of the county’s roads are in terrible shape; a few rate zero on a scale of 1-100. Potholes aren’t just a minor inconvenience; they’re a trip-and-fall danger, especially for kids in rural communities who play in the street because they don’t have sidewalks or neighborhood parks.

That said, we wouldn’t have objected to decreasing the roads allocation by $1 million, and reallocating that to affordable housing projects.

Speaking of parks

Compton succeeded in securing $1.2 million in park fees for Nipomo — which leaves the fund depleted — to be spread among several projects, including a water line for the Dana Adobe; the Jack Ready Imagination Park, which will include playground equipment for children with disabilities; pickle ball courts, tennis courts and basketball courts; and a skateboard park.

The long-awaited skate park is in the planning stage, but when it’s ready to build, there may not be any money to move it forward — sorry, skaters! — since there probably won’t be any money left in the park fee fund.

“That’s what makes me nervous,” Parks Director Nick Franco told the board.

It makes us nervous, too. We’d like to see at least $500,000 in the fund. That way, if grants suddenly become available that require the county to put up matching funds, some money will be available, whether it’s to repair a beach staircase in Cayucos or build a skate park in Nipomo. How about it, supervisors?

Best doggone news

To end on a tail-wagging note, the county’s new animal shelter is on track to break ground in the fall of 2018. No word yet on what will happen to the existing shelter.

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