A Goleta Police Department vehicle.
Goleta is one of four cities in Santa Barbara County that contract with the Sheriff’s Office to provide law enforcement services, including patrol deputies, investigators and traffic enforcement. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

Negotiating a new cost formula has led to a four-year agreement for contract law enforcement services in four cities, but the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors balked saying they didn’t want to be locked into a lengthy deal based on an untested calculation.

The supervisors voted 4-1 with Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson as the lone opponent to approve the contracts but asked for staff to return in a year to provide an update.

Instead of having their own police departments, four cities — Buellton, Carpinteria, Goleta and Solvang — contract with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office to provide law enforcement services, including patrol deputies, investigators and traffic enforcement.

For the 2023-24 fiscal year, Goleta would pay nearly $10.9 million, while Carpinteria would pay approximately $6.1 million. 

Solvang’s law enforcement services for the current fiscal year would be more than $2.8 million. Buellton’s would cost $2.7 million.

For the remaining three years and optional one-year extensions, all sides agreed to use an annual cost escalator based on Deputy Sheriff’s Association pay increases and an additional 2.78% annual increase in overall costs. 

In 2021, all four cities united to challenge the county when the contracts called for hefty cost increases based on a new formula later determined to be complex, unclear and unpredictable.

The new four-year contracts blended the simplicity of the initial formula with the comprehensiveness of the second formula, Undersheriff Craig Bonner said. For instance, the costs include separate amounts for academy and field training for deputies and other Sheriff’s Office overhead costs.  

“All told, these contracts are a giant step forward for both the county and the cities, and they’re a testament to the hard work, dedication and collaboration of everyone involved. We’re looking forward to putting the negotiations behind us and getting back to the business of serving our community members providing top-notch policing services,” Bonner said at Tuesday’s meeting.

County and city representatives combined put in thousands of hours to hash out an agreement acceptable to both sides with the county seeking full cost recovery and cities wanting some clarity and predictability in potential contract cost increases.

Nelson, who represents a large number of residents in unincorporated areas, expressed concern that some special duty deputy slots for his communities remain empty because of a shortage of personnel, yet the jobs for the four contract cities remain filled.

Bonner confirmed that the department continues having trouble filling all of its positions but added that the contract cities are also feeling some of that pain by having to forego some positions. 

The new model for calculating Sheriff’s Office costs also raised a common complaint.

“There’s a lot of concern among board members that we’re getting full cost recovery in these contracts,” Nelson said.

Worries about whether the new formula would cover the county’s entire costs made supervisors hesitant to get locked into a four-year contract. 

“This is an inconveniently long contract in order to address the issues. This is a great amount of work. I want to vote for something today because I don’t want to wreck that work, but four years is a long time to leave some of the issues unaddressed,” said chairman Supervisor Das Williams, whose district includes Carpinteria.

Board members asked the Sheriff’s Office to return with data from the first year to determine whether the contract covered the county’s costs. If the formula doesn’t cover the county’s costs, they could reconsider the contract. The contract’s termination clause allows either party to end it with one year’s notice.

Hours after the board’s action, the Goleta City Council approved its contract, but not without voicing concerns about the cost increase and having one fewer motorcycle traffic enforcement position.

Goleta is seeing substantial cost increases for its law enforcement services contract, said Jaime Valdez, the city’s Neighborhood Services director. It’s gone from $7 million in 2019-20 to $10.8 million for the current year.  

“For perspective, though, not that it’s easier to accept, many cities do in fact spend upwards of 30% or more on public safety,” he said.

Goleta in the past has spent about 20% of its general fund money on the contract, which has moved up to about 25%, he said.

“While the dollar value may still be very high, relative to what the general fund is, it hasn’t gone up as much as it has in other communities,” Valdez said.

Beyond the basic level of patrol deputies and support staff, Goleta requests and pays for eight positions, including a school resource deputy, community resource officers, a parking enforcement officer and four motorcycle traffic enforcement officers.

The new contract includes three motors, since the Sheriff’s Office can’t guarantee staffing a fourth.

Bonner indicated they might be able to provide the position in April, for an additional $217,000 cost, Goleta City Manager Robert Nisbet said.

Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte said she wasn’t happy about the contract but recognized the amount of work that went into the negotiations.

As they unanimously voted for the new contract, council members said they hoped the new methodology would make costs more transparent and predictable. 

City councils in Solvang and Carpinteria are expected to approve the contracts during their meetings Monday night, while Buellton’s council will consider the agreement Thursday night.