Wednesday, April 25 , 2018, 4:52 pm | Fair 61º


Local News

Brown Paints Gloomy Picture of Law Enforcement after Latest Santa Barbara County Budget Cuts

Sheriff warns that $8 million public safety reduction will be felt in unincorporated areas of county

Santa Barbara County opened its budget discussions Monday, and Sheriff Bill Brown painted a dismal, if not apocalyptic, picture of public safety should law enforcement spending cuts continue.

Brown was asked to trim $8 million from his agency’s budget, and he reminded the Board of Supervisors that this is the fourth straight year of cuts for the Sheriff’s Department.

“This year is by far the worst,” he said. “We simply cannot keep doing this.”

The Sheriff’s Department has lost 42 positions since 2009, and may have to cut more this budget cycle. Closing the Santa Maria jail to save money is also on the table — a development that has spurred concern from North County leaders.

“Make no mistake about it, these cuts will result in diminished public safety in Santa Barbara County,” Brown said.

The hardest hit areas will be unincorporated portions of the county because the Sheriff’s Department must maintain its police services in cities with which it contracts. On the South Coast, Montecito and Hope Ranch are both unincorporated. The department also must honor its contract with the state of California for court services.

Brown did have one bit of bright news Monday: The Sheriff’s Department is expecting to end this year in the black, thanks to managing overtime and vacancies held unfilled from last year. Now the agency is in a position to restore its school resource deputies, a program that is funded entirely by the county, with no contribution from the school districts.

But there’s a whole list of cost-cutting measures that remains, and eliminating school resource deputies is on it. Narcotics investigators could be cut 44 percent with criminal investigators pared back by 42 percent. Delays in launching air missions for fire and search and rescue could also result from cuts. A reduction in 20 beds is also up for discussion, despite the overcrowding in the County Jail. The D.A.R.E. program will be reduced to a part-time program that is privately funded. Reductions in training are also slated.

Adding to the stress, the cuts are what the county will experience before any state budget cuts occur. Brown said the Sheriff’s Department will continue to provide core services to the best of itsr ability.

“Reduced staffing levels will be felt throughout the county,” he said.

Brown also reminded the board about Measure S, the failed ballot measure that had sought a half-cent sales tax to fund construction for a North County jail. Brown said $56 million the state had set aside for the facility is still out there, but “the clock is ticking on those funds.”

Generating new revenues will be crucial, he said, and he used the Tranquillon Ridge oil-and-gas project as an example of what could bring in rapid revenues to the county.

Since he was elected in 2006, Brown said he feels as if he’s presided over the “systematic dismantling of the Sheriff’s Office.”

Shutting down the Santa Maria jail was a cause of concern for several speakers, including Santa Maria Mayor Larry Lavagnino, who said the closure would be devastating for the North County. Police officers would be forced to haul people to Santa Barbara’s jail, which wouldn’t be feasible all the time.

“The community of Santa Maria will become a dangerous place, as we’ll have no other alternative than to cite and release,” he said.

Guadalupe Mayor Lupe Alvarez said that although his city was economically challenged, it’s currently one of the county’s safest communities.

“If the jail closes, we will have one of the highest crime rates in the county,” he said.

That concern prompted a comment from 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

“We, too, have a house that we have to run,” he said. “This is not an easy situation, but I wish that out partners at the cities would come to us with some resource sharing ... We’re all in it together.”

The Board of Supervisors will continue its budget talks at 9 a.m. Wednesday with a discussion on community resources and public facilities. The supervisors are meeting in the board hearing room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Intern Daniel Langhorne can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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