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When voters approved Measure K during the March election, they expected the half-cent sales tax to fund several areas of services in both the cities and the unincorporated parts of Santa Cruz County, as promised by its backers.

This included $1 million annually each for housing, homeless services, climate resiliency and road repair and infrastructure projects.

But a pending lawsuit challenging the measure—which was approved with a 56% margin—has put an embargo on that money, which county officials were counting on to shore up a budget that is facing several other challenges.

That was the message Tuesday from County Administrative Officer Carlos Palacios, as the Board of Supervisors prepared for three days of budget hearings.

During these annual hearings, every county department outlines the services it provides and essentially justifies their portion of the $1.2 billion budget.

The Measure K funds would also help the county build soccer fields at the Polo Grounds and Pinto Lake County Park, Palacios said, and would take a chunk out of more than 140 unfunded problems from recent storm damage.

The county is currently awaiting on $125 million in reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for storm damage repair after seven major natural disasters since 2007. It is also facing an impending recession and a budget deficit estimated between $46 and 56 billion. When Gov. Gavin Newsom releases his final budget in June, that could mean reductions in jurisdictions across the state.

“As you know this is a very difficult budget year,” Palacios said.

Palacios said that he has made two recent budget decisions meant to partially ameliorate the problem.

He reduced the county’s contingency fund from $7.5 million—the minimum amount considered best practices— to $1.25M. 

He also made the decision not to make any capital expenditures, such as repairing or upgrading buildings.

“I’ve made some very difficult decisions, because otherwise the only other option would have been to make budget cuts, which likely would have resulted in layoffs,” he said. 

Before the budget talks began, several people addressed the board, asking for their support as the supervisors prepared to make the financial decisions that will affect programs and positions throughout the county.

Leanne Martinez, who works with the Employment Benefit Division of the Human Services Department, said the department needs more social worker positions, and asked the supervisors to avoid cuts there.

Martinez pointed out that she could make $9 per hour more if she worked in nearby San Jose, and said that the county has historically hired too many upper management positions.

“If there is money for those people, there is money for us,” she said.

The Board of Supervisors heard from the Human Services, Public Defender, Probation, Assessor-Recorder, County Administrative Office and County Clerk, among other departments. On Wednesday the budget hearings will resume with reports from the County Sheriff, the District Attorney, Parks, Open Spaces, and Cultural Services and Agricultural Commissioner, among others.For information, click here or visit

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


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