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Board of Supervisors Ponders Budgets for Sheriff, Fire, Mental Health

Talks over funding continue as Santa Barbara County faces a $13.7 million shortfall for 2013-14

Budget talks continued Wednesday as the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors got a glimpse at the bottom lines for several of the county’s biggest departments, including the Sheriff’s Department and County Fire, as well as Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services.

The county is facing a $13.7 million shortfall for 2013-14, and each department is going through the annual process to justify what it’s spending and why.

That discussion hit some nerves Wednesday, as the supervisors showed fatigue when faced with the call for more funding to fulfill the mission of law enforcement from Sheriff Bill Brown.

The department has a $110 million budget that supports 640 full-time positions, but cutbacks have placed “considerable strain on our organization,” Brown said earlier. As services have been pared down, he said, the goal has been to maintain frontline services and the jail.

Brown painted a picture similar to past talks he has given to the board: Deputies already strained for resources were hit especially hard after AB 109 state prison changes were fully implemented.

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he gets “defensive” when the reports are consistently that the board has not fully supported law enforcement.

“If I was a member of the public, I would think, ‘What (is the Sheriff’s Department) doing” with the funding,’” Lavagnino said.

Brown responded that he appreciated the board’s support and said the department has had some successes in spite of the cuts.

In the face of an increase in panga boat smuggling, the department has seized 14,000 pounds of illicit drugs with an estimated street value in the millions of dollars.

The department was also able to consolidate its Air Support Unit with that of the Fire Department and upgrade video units in the department’s patrol cars.

The county is on track to build and open a new jail in 2018, Brown said.

Supervisor Salud Carbajal listens while Supervisor Steve Lavagnino makes a point during Santa Barbara County budget hearings on Wednesday. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)
Supervisor Salud Carbajal listens while Supervisor Steve Lavagnino makes a point during Santa Barbara County budget hearings on Wednesday. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

But challenges still face the department, he said. Despite the budget being status quo in terms of new positions, the department is looking at a $1 million deficit, a “significant amount” especially in light of cuts, Brown said.

The largest part of that deficit comes from increased costs from the aviation unit, which amount to $298,733 due to “unanticipated, major repair costs,” Brown said.

Fire Chief Mike Dyer also presented his department’s budget for next year, which is facing $710,000 in fleet reductions.

That would mean that the crew for one engine at Fire Station 11 in Goleta would have to be eliminated, which “would leave three firefighters on duty,” he said.

Station 11 is the only station in the county with two trucks because of the densely populated area, Dyer said.

Station 22 in Orcutt would also lose two positions, and Dyer said he would like to use the department’s $2.5 million fund balance to help pay for those reductions, and then check back in six months when more solid property tax numbers are available.

“There are a lot of variables out there,” he said.

The county’s Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Department was also discussed, and one of the biggest changes would be the elimination of 11 full-time mental health positions from the Santa Maria Juvenile Justice Center and Los Prietos Boys Camp.

The move to shift those workers — no one would be laid off —  and have those services conducted by Corizon, a private company that already handles medical care for inmates at the county jail, would save the county $500,000, according to Dr. Takashi Wada, ADMHS director.

That contract is scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors for more in-depth discussion next Tuesday.

Budget discussions are set to resume at 9 a.m. Friday.

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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