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Monday, December 10 , 2018, 3:17 pm | Mostly Cloudy 62º


Supervisors Agree to Ask State for More Jail Funding

Sheriff Bill Brown appeared before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday with a plan to apply for more state money that will allow the new North County Jail, now in the planning stages, to expand and include additional beds and programming aimed at reducing recidivism.

The supervisors ultimately approved moving forward to apply for that state money, but will have to provide some of the county's money to qualify for the grant.

Where that money will come from is still an open question.

Brown has convinced the supervisors in the past to take advantage of $80 million in state money, a decision that is enabling jail plans to move forward.

He's made the case that the main jail near Goleta is overcrowded and in need of overhaul, conditions that were exacerbated as the state moved lower-level offenders from prisons to local jails to save money as part of AB 109.

The jail's population increased by 11 percent in 2012, he told the supervisors.

Sticking points in the past have always been where the county will come up with the funds it needs to match the grants, as well as ongoing operating costs for the new jail, which continues to be a source of contention on the dais.

Brown said Tuesday that he expects the jail to open and be operational in 2018.

He was there to brief the supervisors on Senate Bill 1022, under which a state grant could provide up to $40 million to each successful county that qualifies. However, to qualify, counties must provide a minimum 10 percent match.

If the county is awarded that money, it would go towards the Sheriff's Transition And Re-entry Complex, or STAR, a 52,208-square-foot facility that would add 228 beds to the North County Jail and would include programming on rehabilitation, sobriety and successful re-entry into the community, he said

The total cost to build the complex is $43.6 million, and the state would cover $38.9 million. 

The county would have to put forward $3.9 million in matching funds, which Brown suggested could be moved from the county's strategic reserve.

The awards would be made in January, and the county would have to meet the contribution fund, have done initial real estate due diligence, compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act and authorization to execute project documents.

Having done all of that "would make us extremely competitive," he said.

Brown acknowledged that ongoing operating costs have been an issue, and that the STAR would cost almost $5 million to operate in 2018-19.

But by closing older, inefficient facilities and reducing staffing costs such as pensions, rates of which were less than initially expected, Brown said operating costs could be whittled down to $310,700 each year.

Brown brought up the growth in the county's rising share of AB109 funding, and some of those growth dollars could be used to pay for ongoing expense.

"In any event, we would have the next four or five years to identify the source of that funding," he said.

Supervisor Doreen Farr expressed concerns about the jail changes being "piecemeal," which Supervisor Peter Adam echoed.

"We can all agree this is a good project, but there will still be a financial impact to the county, and we're going to need a lot more time to discuss that financial impact," Supervisor Janet Wolf said.

The county does have the $3.9 million in strategic reserves "but that did not come to us easily and the county has a lot of other needs," Wolf said, adding that she hopes to look at other options in January. "I have been to the main jail on many occasions. I feel strongly that we need this facility. … What we have now is not only inadequate, it's unsafe."

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said officer safety would improve and that he hoped that giving local employees preference as the jail is being built would be written into the jail documents.

"The prisoners are coming our way. … We just have to have the facilities to deal with them," he said. "I'm not a big fan of going into strategic reserve, but it's there for a reason … and I'm very interested in seeing other ways to finance this."

Adam said he would have liked to heard about the project sooner.

"I don't think we have a whole lot of choice. … But it's a big commitment and I'm loathe to drain our strategic reserve," he said, adding that he would support the measure moving forward.

Supervisor Salud Carbajal also said he'd like to explore options for funding the county's share.

With the project aiming to reduce recidivism, the STAR complex could "turn the tide and try a different method that really rehabilitates people," he said.

The item was approved unanimously and will come back to the board after the county receives indication from the state on whether it has been selected for the grant next year.

In other business, the supervisors formally approved hiring a new county CEO, and also issued thanks to departing CEO Chandra Wallar for her three years of service to the county. Last week, the county announced it has selected Marin County Administrator Mona Miyasato as its new CEO. Her first day will be Dec. 9.

Carbajal said the supervisors had been through an "extensive process" to select the new CEO.

He also praised Wallar's ability to navigate the county through tough economic times.

"It's been a tough five years of economic strife," he said, "and CEO Wallar has done a great job of stewarding us through that storm."

Carbajal said the board will be "grappling with" naming an interim CEO for the time period between Oct. 31 and Dec. 9.

Farr said the board had interviewed a number of excellent candidates, and "it was not easy, but I'm very pleased we were able to find someone with Mona's background and capabilities."

Lavagnino said it was important to note that Miyazoto was a unanimous choice from the board. He also praised Wallar.

"This was probably the toughest three years anyone's had to deal with consecutively as a CEO," he said, adding he was thankful for her financial planning for the Santa Barbara North County Jail.

Adam also echoed Lavagnino's comments, thanking Wallar for her help as they came in as new voices on the board

"We did have some excellent candidates," Wolf said, "and this board put in a lot of of effort to welcome someone who is worthy of this county."

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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