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Santa Maria Jail on Chopping Block During County Budget Talks for $2 Million in Proposed Savings

With 3 daylong workshops scheduled this week, Santa Barbara County department heads are asking for millions of dollars in additional funding

Changes may be coming for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department’s Santa Maria Branch Jail under the latest county budget proposal. The jail is part of the substation near the intersection of West Foster Road and California Boulevard.
Changes may be coming for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department’s Santa Maria Branch Jail under the latest county budget proposal. The jail is part of the substation near the intersection of West Foster Road and California Boulevard. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County staff say there isn't enough money to fund all the requests that individual departments are asking for during this year’s budget process.

The financial outlook is positive but there are limited resources to expand services, Richard Morgantini, a fiscal and policy analyst with the County Executive Office, wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

The five-member board is scheduled to hold three daylong budget workshops this week to hear about staffing and service plans — and requested changes — for the coming fiscal year.

Final budget decisions are expected to be adopted in June.

No layoffs are anticipated for the next two years, but some services are facing cuts.

For example, closing the Santa Maria Branch Jail altogether has been proposed for $2 million in savings.

If approved, North County law enforcement agencies would have to drive people in custody to the Main Jail in Santa Barbara, as they did when the jail closed part-time between 2011 and 2013.

Salary and benefit costs as well as maintenance expenses are ever-increasing and many departments are asking to add — or “restore,” in their words — positions cut in recent years during the recession.

Overall, county department heads are asking for $17.3 million more in ongoing funding and $11.8 million in one-time funding. That includes more staff positions, mostly, and some additional funding for services and maintenance.

One request for ongoing funding comes from the Parks Department, which wants $130,000 per year to meet California Coastal Commission obligations to monitor and maintain the Goleta Beach Park rock revetment.

The Public Works Department says it needs $12 million per year to keep pavement at its current level of quality countywide, and made a request for $10.25 million in ongoing funds to pay for pavement maintenance.

General Services officials are also requesting $6.5 million for maintenance costs.

As a large reduction in the proposed budget, closing the Santa Maria Branch Jail for all custody and booking activities would shift staffing to the Main Jail and save $2 million. Only vacant positions would be axed.

At Monday's meeting, Sheriff Bill Brown is expected to request funding to stop that closure and will talk about transition staffing for the new Northern Branch Jail, which is expected to be built soon and open in 2018.

Since the Board of Supervisors axed the sheriff’s Treatment and Re-entry Complex with another 228 beds from the project, the new jail will add 376 beds — about a third of what the Main Jail has now.

When the new facility is operating, the county plans to close some areas of the Main Jail, including the Medium Security Facility and basement dorms, and close the Santa Maria Branch Jail for good.

The new custody system is expected to cost $18 million more than the current system in the first year (probably 2018-2019) if facilities are at full capacity, with costs going up every year with inflation and salary increases.

Budget workshops will be held in the Board Hearing Room on the fourth floor of the county Administration Building at 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara starting at 9 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Monday’s schedule includes presentations from the District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Department, Court Special ServicesProbation Department and Fire Department.

On Wednesday, proposed budgets are expected to be presented for the Board of Supervisors, the County Executive Office, County Counsel, Child Support Services, First 5 Santa Barbara County, Social Services, Public Health, Behavioral Wellness, Public Works and Community Services.

The Board of Supervisors will give staff direction on any suggested changes to the recommended budget after Friday’s final workshops from the General Services Department, Treasurer-Tax Collector-Public Administrator, Clerk-Recorder-Assessor, Auditor-Controller, Human Resources, Agriculture Weights & Measures, and Planning and Development.

Noozhawk managing editor 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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