Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 11:26 am | Overcast 64º


Local News

Sheriff Brown Makes Pitch for Sales Tax to Fund New North County Jail, Operations

The half-percent tax would replace a temporary 1 percent tax set to end in June 2011

Jail overcrowding has long been a problem in Santa Barbara County, and particularly in the North County, where population and crime have been on the rise for decades. With gang-related crime reaching unprecedented levels, many have called for a new North County jail.

Sheriff Bill Brown addressed the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and said that aside from being severely overcrowded — there are more than 1,000 inmates in a building designed to accommodate 818 — the main jail is in need of serious infrastructure upgrades. He asserted that a new $80 million, 304-bed North County facility would remove some of the physical pressure placed on the aging structure by overpopulation and the hard use inherent in housing corrections residents.

The problem, of course, has been how to fund it. Having narrowly wriggled through the county’s grueling budget process with enough money to maintain the North County holding facility this year, Brown has presented a plan to place a half-percent sales tax — dubbed the jail construction, operation and public safety enhancement tax — on the November ballot.

Expected to bring in about $30 million annually, the tax is designed to replace a temporary 1 percent sales tax scheduled to sunset on June 30, 2011.

“In essence, what people around the community would experience is a half-percent decrease in sales tax,” said Brown, explaining that when the 1 percent temporary tax expires at the end of June 2011, the half-percent tax proposed to replace it on July 1, 2011, would reduce the county’s sales and use tax from its current 8.75 percent to 8.25 percent.

The sheriff said, however, that constructing a new jail facility in the North County would not be enough on its own. With recidivism rates hovering around 70 percent, Brown called for more money to be invested into treating the social problems that eventually blossom into criminal activity and gang problems. Having acquired a tentative lock on a $56.3 million state grant, Brown said the Sheriff’s Department would have to fund only about $24 million for construction and operation of the jail, as well as treatment programs and fire service contributions.

“This size of jail will not work without investing simultaneously in prevention, enforcement and alternative-to-custody programs,” Brown told the board. “We have developed a solution that will solve this problem once and for all while making our county a safer place.”

Aside from funding construction and operation of the new North County facility, treatment programs and upgrades to the main jail, the sales tax also would be used, to a limited extent, for fire protection.

Some contention arose between Brown and the board, though, over how much money would be set aside for fire protection. Brown said taking too much money away from the tax’s intended law enforcement purpose would make it difficult to sell to voters in the fall, leading the supervisors to vote unanimously Tuesday to continue the item for further discussion at the board’s July 6 hearing.

Public Defender Greg Paraskou said that as a member of the 2007 Blue Ribbon Commission studying jail overcrowding in Santa Barbara County, he was initially skeptical that a new jail was the answer.

“I’m a public defender, and in my view, we lock up too many people for too long, and for all the wrong reasons,” he said during the public comment period. “As we went through the [commission’s evaluation] process, it became clear to me that there is a need for a new jail.”

Paraskou also said, however, that he was unhappy with the amount of money that had been diverted away from the treatment portion of the law enforcement pie in favor of facility upgrades and hard enforcement options.

“What I walked away from the Blue Ribbon Commission with was that for every dollar spent on the jail, there should be 50 cents spent on alternatives,” he said. “This proposal significantly cuts that.”

Brown agreed that more attention needs to be focused on rehabilitation programs, such as a work furlough system — the county used to have one but no longer does — that he said would keep inmates employed and their families off public assistance. Both in-custody and community-based drug treatment programs are also a major focus of the department, and Brown indicated that it is always in need of more funding.

On July 6, the Board of Supervisors is expected to discuss in greater detail expenditure ratios and the term for which the sales tax would be in effect. As presented, the plan — which Brown said needs to go on this November’s ballot so the department doesn’t lose its window of opportunity and be forced to wait until the 2012 primary election — calls for a 10-year term.

Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >