The Santa Barbara City Council voted Tuesday to support county Sheriff Bill Brown’s proposed half-percent sales tax planned for November’s ballot.

Only Councilman Frank Hotchkiss opposed writing a resolution of support, saying the goals were “fabulous,” but the grant wasn’t a sure thing yet.

The tax would provide about $30 million a year for the next 14 years, of which half would go to the construction and operation of a new 304-bed facility on land already purchased in Santa Maria.

Brown and supporters say the half-percent tax would coincide with the sunset of a statewide 1 percent sales tax, making Santa Barbara County’s sales tax drop from 8.75 percent to 8.25 percent. Hotchkiss said the state sales tax going away isn’t a sure thing, especially in California’s current fiscal state.

While the main jail is designed to house 818 inmates, it holds closer to 1,000, which is meant to be the capacity of that building, the adjacent medium security facility and Santa Maria’s small jail, used mainly for booking inmates.

Overcrowding and high recidivism rates — about 70 percent of released inmates reoffend — call for long-term solutions, including program funding, Brown said.

The other half of the tax money would go toward reducing repeat offenders — through treatment and prevention programs alternative sentencing, law enforcement and fire protection.

One example is the 12-year-old Sheriff’s Treatment Program, which has two housing blocks for participating inmates and has had more than 7,000 participants. So far, it’s been paid for by inmates through the Inmate Services Unit and has shown better recidivism rates than the jail’s general population.

About 80 percent of the jail’s inmates committed crimes involving the use of alcohol or drugs, the program’s civilian supervisor, Chuck McClain, has told Noozhawk.

Brown said that since being in custody is a temporary state for nearly all inmates, rehabilitation is important to help prevent future crimes.

“The reality is, these people are coming back,” he said. “The question is, how do we want them to come back?”

The rush to get a sales tax on the books is because of a tentative $56.3 million state grant, which is conditional on the county coughing up the additional funding for the $80 million jail and operating it.

While the City Council and other groups have supported the tax, an opposition statement was filed by some county residents, including David Stockdale, who challenged Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, in the June primary.

The blue ribbon commission that studied jail overcrowding found that sentenced and pretrial inmates have been released early, and that the system creates less of a deterrent. Since 1999, 18,000 inmates have been released early because of overcrowding, and of that number, 1,000 were rearrested in the time they should have still been in custody under their sentence.

“Someone lost their life as a result of overcrowding,” Brown said, referring to someone who committed a murder after being released early.

The amount of pretrial inmates has been increasing during the past 10 years, and while 57 percent of inmates were awaiting trial in 2000, that number has increased to 81 percent. At the same time, the number of felony inmates is increasing, too, from 58 percent of total inmates in 2000 to 78 percent this year.

If supported by two-thirds of county voters, the sales tax would be in effect for a 14-year term.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at