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Local News

County Supervisors Disagree with Grand Jury Report on Northern Branch Jail Costs

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors responded Tuesday to a Grand Jury report issued earlier this summer that questions how the county plans to pay for operating costs of a new jail.

The county has plans in the works to build a new $136 million Northern Branch Jail just outside Santa Maria, to which the state is contributing almost 90 percent of the total cost to build.

The jury questioned whether the county can afford to fund ongoing operating costs without gouging other services, since the costs are estimated at $18 million per year.

The jury report stated that an increase of 3.5 percent a year in property taxes was needed to make the plan work, but the county disagreed.

The plan requires less than 1 percent growth in the county's discretionary general fund revenues, said Tom Alvarez, the county's budget director.

Alvarez pointed out that only one year out of the past 30 years of property tax data had growth below 1 percent. That year was in 2010-11.

He also said that monies set aside for the fire department from property tax are not included in growth projection.

The board partially agreed with the jury's finding that discipline would be needed to execute the plan and to allocate roughly 28 percent of the property tax increases to the reserve fund through 2022.

However, the board believes the property tax growth needed is 26 percent, not 28 percent as the jury suggested.

Reductions in other departments haven't been necessary and the process continues to be discussed in public meetings, according to Alvarez.

"It is going to affect other departments," Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino. "We'll be spending $18 million a year that we aren't spending now."

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said the county still has a reserve for years that do not reach target goals, which could be beefed up with more money if needed.

Ultimately, the board agreed unanimously with most of the jury's recommendations, including displaying budget data on the county website and that the supervisors should communicate with constituents about service cuts that might be necessary to fund the jail.

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam recommended broadening the tax base, rather than wait for higher revenues to appreciate.

"We need to be more open-minded about the projects that come before us," he said.

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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