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Supervisors Approve Transition Staffing for North County Jail

Plans for the North County Jail are moving forward, but the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department's transition staffing looks like it will be much more expensive than expected.

Sheriff Bill Brown on Tuesday presented the county Board of Supervisors with a plan to recruit staff over the next four years so people can be hired and trained before the new facility opens in early 2018.

The plan has 124 people, which includes 88 sworn positions, and the county will have to hire 100 people to fill those new jobs.

Shifts in the new jail would have 19 custody deputies on duty during the daytime hours and 18 for nighttime, Brown said.

The supervisors were concerned that transition staffing will cost $5.8 million, which is $1.8 million more than expected, because so many staff are being hired several years before the new jail opens its doors.

There’s no plan yet to find that extra money, budget director Tom Alvarez said. 

Brown and General Services director Matt Pontes said the hiring process takes six months and training can take another eight, so the county needs to start recruiting years before the new jail is operational.  

The county also needs to come up with the annual operating cost for the new jail, which is estimated at $15.8 million.

The actual costs are $20 million with staffing, supplies and contracts, but the Main Jail in Santa Barbara will be reduced to 600 inmates, and some of those costs will be transferred to Santa Maria, Brown said.

Transition costs did increase with the revised hiring schedule, hiring more people earlier, but the operating cost estimates are aligned with the original estimate, Alvarez said. 

Construction documents are being developed for the $96 million jail facility. A state board has approved schematic designs for the 376-bed lock-up, and the project is scheduled to break ground in November 2015.

Ninety percent of the funding comes from state grants, and Santa Barbara County received another $38.9 million for a 228-bed Sheriff’s Transition and Reentry Complex, which will be an additional wing to the jail complex at Black and Betteravia roads outside Santa Maria.

The Main Jail on Calle Real is “Santa Barbara’s version of the Winchester Mystery House,” Brown said, having gone through seven additions and remodels to increase capacity to 1,000 inmates in average-daily population.

The new jail has to be a hybrid of a jail and a prison, since more-serious offenders will be serving time under the Assembly Bill 109 public safety realignment.

Instead of long hallways with barred cells, there will be modules with cells surrounding common areas that have classrooms, video visitation stations and health rooms so inmates don’t have to be moved very often, Brown said.

Architects have given the building’s façade a mission-style look with Spanish-influenced design and red-tile roofs meant to fit in with Santa Maria instead of being an industrial-looking concrete block, Brown said.

Supervisor Janet Wolf questioned some design elements that added to the construction cost without having any functionality, such as a fake bell tower by the main entrance.

Brown defended the $60,000 tower, saying it was necessary to invoke the “iconic” California mission look.

He also said missions were “places of respite for weary travelers” and “redemption and revitalization,” but Wolf countered that if it’s about redemption, she would rather that money go toward a mental-health professional.

During public comment, a member of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians said the jail site is on archaeologically significant land. He asked that the county to do additional studies “to protect the culture and history of my people” prior to construction.

Several contractors, construction workers and labor representatives spoke about the construction project itself, with many arguing to use local workers.

The county’s “point of no return” on this project is after it is put out to bid but before the contract is awarded, assistant to the CEO Dennis Bozanich said.

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino has held the jail project as a top priority, and said the opportunity would probably not ever come around again.

“When are we ever going to get a chance to get a jail for 10 cents on the dollar?” he said.

The board approved the preliminary staffing plan and operation costs analysis.

The project will come back for more action in the fall, after construction drawings are finished.

Noozhawk staff writer 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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