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Local News

Sheriff’s Jail Tax Garners Early Support from Goleta Council

Mayor Eric Onnen raises concerns about the benefit to the city vs. its contributions

It took a little bit of selling on the part of Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, but it appeared this week as if the Goleta City Council is looking favorably upon ballot Measure S, a proposed half-percent sales tax for public safety in the county.

Brown has been making the rounds at local government meetings to garner support for his proposal, which would go to voters in November.

While no formal resolutions were made Tuesday evening, Goleta officials appear to back the proposal, which, should it pass, would raise money toward the building of a 300-bed jail in the north county, as well as fund various frontline operations for local public safety departments, and corrections programs to rehabilitate substance-abusing offenders and decrease recidivism.

“You put together a plan that makes sense,” Councilman Roger Aceves said.

The need for additional jail facilities has been long-standing in Santa Barbara County. Since the 1980s, according to Brown’s presentation, the current jail, located in the unincorporated area just north of the Goleta Valley, has been inadequate in terms of space, leading to early releases and sending the wrong message to some offenders that they will not be punished to the extent of their sentences.

In addition, Brown said the facilities have not kept up with the population growth of inmates, and the demographic within the jail has shifted so that there is a larger percentage of violent criminals being kept within the facilities, which presents logistical problems and hazards for other inmates and corrections personnel. Several reports on jail overcrowding have called for the need for more jail space within the county.

While there appeared to be a consensus of support from the council, concerns were aired by Mayor Eric Onnen regarding the financial aspect of the sales tax. He asked the sheriff about what Onnen said would seem to be a disproportionate contribution of sales tax from Goleta relative to the benefit it might get.

“It’s a significant disadvantage for the city as far as our participation,” said Onnen, who estimated $2 million raised in sales taxes yearly from Goleta, which would contribute to the construction and operation of the facilities, and to programs meant to benefit all law enforcement and fire safety in the county.

He and the sheriff also went back and forth on the possibility that the sales tax would decrease consumption, the continuous labor cost and the cost of running and maintaining the jail and its programs.

Brown, meanwhile, said criminals don’t respect jurisdictional boundaries.

“This is basically a plan where were all going to pitch in, and we’re all going to work on this,” he said.

Construction of the $80 million jail would be a significant public works project, Brown said, a project that would provide jobs. And because the half-percent sales tax increase would coincide with the end of a state-implemented 1 percent sales tax, the net effect would be a half-percent reduction in sales tax throughout the county.

“Raising taxes should be the last resort, and it is the last resort,” he said.

Councilwoman Margaret Connell said the county’s 1 percent sales tax, the Measure A transportation sales tax, hasn’t been bringing in the projected revenues. Brown replied that the revenues most likely would fluctuate from year to year, but the average is expected be about $30 million.

The topic will come again before the Goleta City Council for a more formal resolution in the near future.

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

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