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Santa Barbara County Supervisors Make Deep Cuts to Close $72 Million Budget Gap

Sheriff's Department stands to lose $6 million and dozens of positions; the board approves funding for mentally ill and homeless

After an arduous week of budget talks and presentations, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors made cuts Friday to close a $72 million gap for 2011-12 — but at the expense of law enforcement, social services and other areas.

About $6.4 million must come out of the Sheriff’s Department budget, and a reduction of nearly 60 positions was slated before supervisors made adjustments reducing it to 50. Though the board did not approve the $1.2 million needed to keep the Santa Maria Jail open full time, it did approve funding of $360,000. That funding will allow the jail to stay open from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Narcotics and criminal investigators will be pared back 42 percent, and reductions in training are also slated, among other cuts. Click here for a full list of the cuts.

“I am deeply disappointed at the 2011-12 budget adopted today by the Board of Supervisors,” Sheriff Bill Brown said in a statement. “The cuts to the Sheriff’s Office are severe and follow three years of continuing reductions. The funding approved for the next fiscal year falls far short of allowing us to provide the level of public safety service that the citizens of this county expect and deserve.”

The District Attorney’s Office now has $240,000 for discretionary spending, including for its drug court program, but is facing massive cuts elsewhere. District Attorney Joyce Dudley asked on Monday for $1.2 million to maintain the prosecution team, but other than the current $240,000, no other funding was given. Click here to view the full list of board adjustments.

Smaller victories were found in the board’s restorations, however, particularly for the mentally ill and the homeless. The supervisors voted to fully fund the Pro Pay program, which helps the mentally ill manage federal benefits, with $200,000. The county’s warming centers, which open as shelters for the homeless from inclement weather, will get $25,000. Though it’s only half of what the program received last year, the item was not eliminated — as proposed.

The board also voted to keep $1 million for public safety helicopter operations.

Friday’s meeting raised interesting discussions about priorities among the supervisors.

Supervisor Salud Carbajal recommended that the board look at places to cut, such as Planning and Development, in order to fund social services and law enforcement.

“There’s a lot of pain in the budget,” he said. “There are a lot of resources in this budget right now.”

But Supervisor Janet Wolf said the time had passed, adding, “We should have had that discussion early on.”

Each supervisor discussed his or her priorities for the budget, and Wolf said she felt more money needed to go to the Sheriff’s Department. But at an average cost per employee of $155,000, board chairwoman Joni Gray said, “That’s hard to find.”

Some surprising comments came from newly elected Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who said he had been very quiet throughout the week of budget talks.

“I felt handcuffed because of past decisions by the board,” he said. “We make decisions and we show up in June, and we get upset because we don’t have enough money. It seems like that’s lost on a lot of us.” He added that when the county says no development, “it’s no to our deputies and DAs.” He said hurdles to development as well as oil and gas production limit revenues and, therefore, services.

Others didn’t agree.

“We don’t just get elected to address oil and development interests,” Carbajal said. “If we did, we would be Orange County.”

He then reminded Lavagnino of his short tenure on the board. “You can’t be up here three or four months and expect to have it figured out,” Carbajal said.

Wolf said the board had approved projects such as Tranquillon Ridge and Miramar, which hadn’t worked out, but not at the fault of the county.

After her comments, Lavagnino continued: “The taxpayer is getting less service for either the same or more taxes. I don’t think any amount of time I’m going to be on the board is going to change my thinking.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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