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Local News

County’s Public Safety Agencies Planning to Add Back Staff Positions

Santa Barbara County department leaders outline personnel needs during a budget workshop with the Board of Supervisors

Santa Barbara County's revenues are increasing, so agencies are starting to add back staff positions that were cut during the recession.

Public safety agencies talked about plans for the coming year on Tuesday during a budget workshop. The recommended budget from the county CEO’s office will be published May 15.

The Sheriff’s Department wants to reopen the Santa Maria Branch Jail full-time, add 18 new custody deputy positions to staff the Main Jail, and add management and support staff positions.

No report was ever made to the Board of Supervisors, but Sheriff Bill Brown said a staffing study determined that the jail should have 18 to 24 more deputies assigned, which would have a $1.7 million cost for next year.

The North Jail project is still under way, and construction should start next year, Brown said. Santa Barbara County received grant funding for an adjacent Sheriff’s Treatment and Recovery Complex (STAR).

County Fire plans to strengthen its EMT and paramedic services in the coming year since that’s 75 percent of what the department does, Fire Chief Mike Dyer said Tuesday.

He expects a prolonged fire season due to drought and dry vegetation, and plans to add extra fire crews to do additional clearance and react to wildfires so other engine companies can go back to their stations.

Probation officers and supervisors are dealing with very high caseloads and are planning to add more positions to help supervise the offender population.

The District Attorney and Public Defender departments also have high caseloads and plan to add staff in the coming year.

District Attorney Joyce Dudley said the department’s been successful in its education programs and crime-prevention programs. There are also ways to lighten the court load, such as the misdemeanor diversion program where offenders who complete the program avoid prosecution altogether. Last year alone, 1,029 cases were not filed because of that program and less than 4 percent of the people reoffended in the first year, Dudley said.

The District Attorney’s Office also has expanded its truancy program, elder abuse prevention programs, workers compensation fraud programs and human trafficking task force, which is now the largest in the county with 75 members.

Public Defender Rai Montes de Oca wants to bring back several legal office professionals, saying the four staff members getting repetitive motion injuries within two years can’t be a coincidence. Of the thousands of new felony and misdemeanor cases filed every year, the Public Defender’s Office expects to represent about 60 percent of the felony defendants and 75 percent of the misdemeanor defendants, he said.

That doesn’t count juvenile cases or the defendants going through therapeutic courts, mental health treatment courts or being helped by the department’s rehabilitation services coordinators.

Andy Caldwell, director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB), suggested that the county privatize the Public Defender’s Office, like San Luis Obispo County has, but Supervisor Janet Wolf immediately said that is “so far off the table,” calling it an abhorrent notion.

The county does have to contract with private attorneys for criminal defense already whenever there is a conflict in the Public Defender’s Office. That can really hurt the budget when large, multi-defendant cases come along, Montes de Oca said.

Overall, the county is cautiously optimistic about finances for the coming year.

Property values rose 4.3 percent in the 2013-14 year, compared with several years of less-than-1-percent growth and other tax revenues are increasing, CEO Mona Miyasato said.

After six years, 580 positions and $60 million in cuts, the county has very few service-level reductions planned for this year.

However, if Measure M is approved, the Board of Supervisors would have to re-evaluate its budget to redirect more money to maintenance funding. Measure M on the June 3 ballot would require all county infrastructure to be kept at its current levels or better, including roads, buildings and parks.

Staff members estimate that could take another $17 million to $39 million per year, which is a big chunk to find from other parts of the budget.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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