Thursday, July 28 , 2016, 9:23 am | Fair 67º

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Local News

After Public Weighs In, County Supervisors Vote to Pursue Jail Construction Agreement

Sheriff Bill Brown reports higher estimates for personnel and operating costs for the facility, raising some concern among the board

As Santa Barbara County's Northern Branch Jail moves toward beginning construction, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday discussed exploring a contract process that would aim to help that construction proceed smoothly while hiring local workers.

The construction estimate for the jail's phase two project is $69.4 million, and is easily the largest capital project in the county's history.

The board approved moving forward with a pilot project stabilization agreement, or PSA, for the phase two project of the Northern Branch Jail as well as the jail's treatment and re-entry complex.

The PSA would be a contract agreement between the county and the trade unions, according to Scott McGolpin, director of the county's Public Works Department.

He said such an agreement would allow for timely resolution of labor disputes and a steady supply of skilled labor, and the county would receive assurances that there will be no work stoppages during the construction process.

Some disadvantages to having a PSA are additional burdens on smaller, local non-union contractors, which can reduce number of bids on a project, limiting competition and raise overall project costs, McGolpin said.

Public comment was passionate on both sides of the issue, with many local general and sub-contractors coming out to voice their opinions.

J.W. Bailey, who owns a construction company of the same name, said there are no union roofing, plaster or painting sub-contractors in Santa Barbara County, and that the county would be forced to look outside the area for qualified union workers.

"You're cutting off the local people," he said.

Proponents of the agreement spoke as well, stating the agreement should be approved because of the scope of the project.

Sherry Bronner, who belongs to the local chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, said "there are a lot of provisions that can go into this to protect union and non-union groups"

Bronner said that many of the smaller contractors would not be bidding on the job anyway.

Brad Jenkins, a South Coast carpenter, said locals involved in the construction industry have struggled to stay in their homes as work has dried up over the past several years. Keeping jobs local is crucial, he said, and "these PSAs are a great way of doing it."

In the end, the Board of Supervisors agreed, voting 4-1 to have staff begin negotiating a PSA and to return in September or earlier with the status of those negotiations.

"We're putting so much money into this project, and we want our local folks to be the ones to work on it," Supervisor Janet Wolf said.

The one dissenting vote came from Supervisor Peter Adam, who said he found "the whole thing inappropriate," and that labor groups should deal with employers and that the government should not interfere.

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino called it a "once in a lifetime capital project" and said he was interested in what a pilot program would look like.

"We all want a project that's going to be delivered on time and on budget," he said.

Earlier in the meeting, another portion of the jail project that has had difficulty staying on budget thus far came up, soliciting frustration from some of the supervisors before it was ultimately approved.

The county has received a conditional state award of $39 million to build a 228-bed wing known as the Sheriff Treatment and Re-Entry, or S.T.A.R., complex in addition to the jail. The 52,208-square-foot wing will be focused on rehabilitation, including achievement of sobriety and successfully re-entry in to the community, according to Sheriff Bill Brown.

The facility will need 26 custody deputies, four custody sergeants and a transfer of 21 custody deputies from the main jail, and will need $6 million to operate in 2018-19, when it is expected to open its doors.

The department is exploring ways to reduce costs, Brown said, and will bring those forward in the future.

There isn't a schematic design for the facility, so the total number of staff needed is still somewhat in flux, but Brown said "we're pretty comfortable with this number" and the number could even adjust downward.

"We're confident that this is as much as we're going to need to put this facility together," he said.

The number of staff as well as annual operating costs were higher than when Brown last brought the item before the board, which raised questions from some supervisors, including Wolf.

"Seeing these numbers become a moving target is concerning. … I wasn't pleased to see this," Wolf said, adding that she wants a more specific plan when Brown returns in the fall.

Brown said it was a best estimate, and that they were only about $300,000 more than the increase he brought forward last fall.

"We wanted to give you what we felt was our best estimate," he said.

"$300,000 is $300,000 … that's a lot when it comes to the entire county," Wolf replied. "I know this is the right project … I just feel a responsibility to make sure that the financial piece is as close as possible."

The item ultimately passed unanimously.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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