The Santa Clarita City Council on Tuesday adopted a $219.7 million budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 — a $6.2 million decrease from the previous year — as the city continues to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2020-21 budget includes a $110.2 million general fund and anticipates $32.1 million in sales tax, representing declines of 3.3% and 13.2%, respectively, from 2019-20.
The operating reserve, which serves as a funding source during emergencies, totals $17.7 million and makes up 20% of operating expenditures. Those expenses are expected to come out to $109.9 million in the new budget.
Shortfalls in the budget come after months of “Safer at Home” restrictions that kept residents in their homes, many without a job as many workplaces have had to shut down temporarily, and others permanently. Unemployment reached 20% in Santa Clarita for May, according to the state’s Economic Development Division.
“The message this year is very different,” said City Manager Ken Striplin in a statement with the budget report. “The long-term impacts from this crisis have yet to be realized, but we do know there will be many challenges and tough decisions ahead.”
The City Council’s unanimous approval of the 2020-21 budget came only after multiple residents asked for transparency and the reallocation of funds budgeted for the police services for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, which was approved for $28.6 million under its total operating expenditures.
“We’re not asking why police is more funded than other departments, but why we should receive such a hefty budget at all,” said Christina Carlson, who spoke during public comment, adding, “for comparison, $2.5 million would keep the local homeless shelter running 24/7 a year.”
Carlson, like others, questioned why the police budget is “funneled into one single line item” rather than provide a breakdown of where the funds go.
“We don’t pay for subscriptions or training and things of that nature,” Striplin said, to explain the nature of the Sheriff’s Department’s contract with the city. “We pay for an item, so the numbers are rolled up into larger numbers.” An item is a technical term that includes all of the services wrapped around putting a deputy out on the street, such as a car and equipment, according to Assistant City Manager Frank Oviedo.
Santa Clarita’s three largest portions of the proposed budget included neighborhood services, such as parks and public libraries, with $74.8 million (34%); capital projects at $32.6 million (15%) and public safety, including police services and fire protection at $28.7 million (13%).