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Local News

Voters Reject Measure S, County’s Proposed Jail Tax

Sheriff Bill Brown says despite the outcome, the county still desperately needs a new facility

Santa Barbara County voters on Tuesday delivered a resounding no against Measure S, the proposed half-cent sales tax measure to fund a new county jail.

With all precincts reporting by early Wednesday morning, the measure received 58,242 no votes, or 60.83 percent, to 37,508 yes votes, or 39.17 percent.

Sheriff Bill Brown told Noozhawk he was “very disappointed.”

Even though Measure S would not have been the solution to the lack of jail space, the problems it sought to address remain. Since 1986, the jail has been under a court-ordered population control, a fact Brown said has led to 1,700 to 1,800 inmates per year to be released early. And $80 million in construction dollars would have been spent in Santa Maria on the project, making it the largest public works project in county history. The state approved a $56 million grant for the project.

The tax was slated not only to help build the jail, but to divert $5 million to programs that target recidivism, and add front-line positions for fire and sheriff’s departments. Although the sales tax would have coincided with the expiration of a legislated state sales tax, voters never bought in to the measure fully.

“The people have spoken,” Brown said.

Exploring how to expand additional capacity will be a challenge going forward, as well as looking into other possibilities to deal with jail overcrowding in the short term.

When asked whether he thought the measure would have passed in better economic times, Brown said tax measures are tough to pass at any point. He said a sales tax put forth in 2000 wasn’t successful.

“Tax measures are tough, particularly for jails,” he said. “If nothing else comes out of this campaign, everyone I spoke to everyone is in agreement that we need to have a jail. We won’t get it in the short term. We’ll have to try some other approach.”

At an August news conference, Brown said that “unless a new jail is built, we will soon be forced into a position where we will only be able to house criminals for felony crimes. This would pose a great danger to our community.”

Brown appeared outside the Santa Barbara Courthouse, flanked by prominent policymakers on both sides of the political aisle.

Opponents of the measure included tax advocates as well as those arguing for more programs to prevent recidivism, rather than more jails.

Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business, has argued against the measure.

“I don’t take any joy in its defeat,” he told Noozhawk on Tuesday night. “We really do want to see that jail built and operated.”

But Caldwell said that the county Board of Supervisors needs to have a larger stake in the process, instead of just expecting taxpayers to bear the cost of the project. He said the county could find the money if it wanted to, as it has done with projects such as the Emergency Operations Center and the Betteravia Government Building.

“They’ve failed to show leadership in the community, and it’s a prime example of why they’re broke,” he said. “I think the voters smell a rat.”

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

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