Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 11:19 pm | Fair 63º


Local News

Goleta On Board with County’s Proposed Jail Sales Tax

Despite some concerns, the City Council votes to approve a resolution of support for Measure S

The Goleta City Council voted Tuesday to approve a resolution of support for Measure S, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown’s proposed tax measure. The 4-1 vote lines up one of the biggest would-be contributors to the would-be half-cent sales tax.

“Given all the components that are proposed in this, and given all the alternatives that have been discussed and dealt with, I really think this is our best chance to accomplish a goal and serve the community and ultimately benefit all of us,” Councilman Michael Bennett said.

As proposed, Measure S would bring in money for a new, 304-bed facility for the North County, which, according to Measure S proponents, is where the new facility is needed most. Measure S would cover the county’s match of the state’s $56 million grant for the new jail. The rest of the $30 million-a-year the county expects in revenue is tagged for staffing and operations of the jail as well as new front-line enhancements to police and fire operations throughout Santa Barbara County.

But Tuesday’s resolution of support didn’t go through without some strong misgivings from members of both the council and the public. The City of Goleta is known as a “donor agency” because of its strong sales tax base, and it’s expected to receive a disproportionate amount of money compared with what it would contribute over the life of the measure.

“I don’t think this is the best proposal that we can come up with to address these issues, and it certainly isn’t the best proposal based on the timing,” said Mayor Eric Onnen, adding that Measure S is expected to fund operations beyond what was recommended by the commission appointed to study the jail needs of Santa Barbara County.

Also, because the city is not “full service,” meaning it doesn’t have its own police and fire departments but instead contracts with the county for those services, the money it collects in effect would go to the county.

“It sounds a little self-serving to me. ... I’m not sure it’s all it’s cracked up to be for our city,” said Councilman Ed Easton, who nevertheless voted to support the measure, as he already had formally endorsed it.

Others were wary that the 14-year initial life of the temporary sales tax would lead to ongoing obligations to levy more years of sales tax, since the county’s budget as it is can’t handle the public safety improvements to be covered by Measure S.

“In 2025, when this tax measure sunsets, how then do we pay for jail operations and the other services this measure is going to provide in 14 years?” asked local resident and Goleta Design Review Board member Bob Wignot. Others questioned the base level of new spending the measure would require local jurisdictions to create to qualify for the funds. Goleta is expected to receive $353,294.

Measure S proponents, including a broad base of local public officials as well as public safety personnel, have argued, however, that if done right, the money spent by Measure S would reduce county expenditures elsewhere, which might free up the funds to support the new jail and its employees, as well as the programs it will support.

The measure, according to supporters, also would solve a decades-old problem of jail overcrowding by providing the wiggle room needed through which to filter and sort the various people who wind up incarcerated. The industry standard is set at 85 percent occupancy, while the local jail is occupied at 120 percent, leading to an early release of 1,700 to 1,800 offenders every year.

Coupled with anti-recidivism programs that provide things such as life training and stress-coping skills, the current rate of returning inmates — currently about 75 percent — is expected to drop. The construction and operation of the jail also would create more jobs, according to the measure’s proponents.

“We have what we have right now, and it’s not going away overnight,” Councilwoman Margaret Connell said, citing the ongoing overcrowding problems, a sentiment agreed with by the council majority.

Measure S, though it has won support from one of its major donors, still has a hurdle to clear with a required 66.7 percent vote this November.

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

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