Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 14
The monetary dilemma: County supervisors deny a sheriff's department contract with the Chumash
By CAMILLIA LANHAM
Opposition to anything involving the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is expected at this point, but the pushback apparently extends even to instances when the tribe offers the county money.
Santa Barbara County 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he can usually understand why people are upset about things the tribe brings before the Board of Supervisors: land-use issues, increased gaming in the casino, and liquor licenses.
“This one I don’t get,” Lavagnino said during a June 3 hearing regarding a potential contract between the Chumash and the county Sheriff’s Department.
The tribe offered to pay the county $850,000 in exchange for a 24-hour-a-day sheriff deputy position—which equals five full-time positions—for the reservation and surrounding areas.
Within 15 minutes of denying the contract with a 3-2 vote—1st District Supervisor Carbajal joined Lavagnino on the losing side—county supes voted 5-0 to allocate $1 million of the county’s general fund balance to pay off a deficit in the Sheriff’s Department’s budget.
The total budget shortfall for 2013-2014 was $1.3 million, which was caused by a combination of unanticipated overtime hours and higher-than-expected costs for beds in the psychiatric health facility and prescription drug costs for inmates. General fund dollars went to pay for overtime, while the Sheriff’s Department pulled a little more than $300,000 out of an asset forfeiture money fund.
The tribe’s money would have gone to fund a position that was once paid for out of a state pot of money called the Special Distribution Fund. Every California tribe that owns a casino puts money into the pot, which is then redistributed in a priority order.
Fourth on that priority list is mitigating the local impacts of a casino through grants for infrastructure and public safety agencies.
The funding given out locally has decreased over the last few years as the state pulled money out of the pot to pay for the top three priorities on the list. Therefore, the full-time deputy once funded through those Special Distribution Fund grants had to be cut. County Sheriff Bill Brown and the tribe have been in negotiations for the last year to find a way to re-fund that position. Their collective solution was the contract Brown presented to the Board of Supervisors on June 3.
The dissenting board members and several people who spoke during public comments shared the sentiment that the contract’s wording was too vague when it came to the physical area it covered; that the contract was unenforceable because the tribe didn’t waive its right to sovereign immunity; and that it left the county open to potential lawsuits.
Brown pleaded with the board to accept the contract, saying that it covers an area the Sheriff’s Department is already responsible for patrolling without money from the tribe.
“Regardless of how these lands are categorized or named, the Sheriff’s Department provides law enforcement to them,” he said during the hearing. “We’re going to provide that service anyway, regardless of if we get this contract.”
Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta addressed the board during public comment.
“It’s amazing that we have to sit here and ask—ask you guys to take our money to provide a service that is necessary and important,” Armenta said. “I expect token ‘no’ votes. I expect it. I see it on every issue we bring here, those token ‘no’ votes. Those of you who don’t think that way, please do what’s best for the community.”
Doreen Farr, 3rd District supervisor, said the contract wasn’t good enough and didn’t protect the county, adding that it needed to be renegotiated and she wouldn’t accept a contract unless a waiver of the tribe’s sovereign immunity was a part of it. She made a motion not to accept the contract and send it back for renegotiation, which passed 3-2.
Lavagnino warned that the county wouldn’t get a second chance to negotiate a contract, and tribal spokesperson Hildy Medina confirmed to the Sun that the contract would not be renegotiated.
Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SIDEBAR: The sheriff wants an independent review of the Isla Vista massacre investigation
After the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department wraps up its investigation into one of the largest mass murders in the county’s history, Sheriff Bill Brown wants an outside agency to review the case.
Having the National Police Association look over the investigation could help the county and other law enforcement agencies learn from the experience, Brown explained to county supervisors during their June 3 meeting. He added that it could take a few more weeks to complete the investigation.
“There has been much Monday morning quarterbacking,” Brown told the supervisors during his presentation, explaining that the questions people are asking about how the massacre could have been prevented are legitimate and should cause county agencies to double check their methods.
“We also need to refrain from trying to make sense of a senseless situation,” Brown added.
Still, he explained that last month’s massacre in Isla Vista was the result of “difficult, complex, long-developing problems” and couldn’t have been prevented.
The sheriff is working with local politicians on what he called commonsense legislation that could address dangerous mental illness and potentially prevent future violent massacres from occurring. Brown said the department will also be working closely with Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services as it uses a recent $11-million-grant to implement crisis response teams and triage services.
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