Friday, November 28, 2014     Volume: 15, Issue: 38
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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 17th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 15 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 15

Grand jury to county: Find other ways to pay for the jail

BY AMY ASMAN

The 2013-2014 Santa Barbara County grand jury is recommending that local officials “revisit options” for funding the operating cost of the North County jail.

Scheduled for completion in 2018, the jail is expected to have 376 beds, with room for expansion, and a specially designed Sheriff’s Transition and Re-Entry (STAR) facility with an additional 228 beds. It will be located on an 80-acre lot near the intersection of Black and West Betteravia roads in Santa Maria.

According to the grand jury report, Northern Branch Jail Operating Cost: When They Build It You Will Pay, the state of California is covering almost 90 percent of the facility’s nearly $136 million construction costs.

“However, the true cost only begins here because county taxpayers will be wholly responsible for annual operating cost,” the report said. “County analysts estimate the new jail operating cost will exceed $20 million in the first full year of operation (2017-18) and will increase annually thereafter.”

The county started allocating funds to the jail project back in 2011-12. The general fund contribution is expected to increase over time, as tax revenue increases, to $17.1 million in 2022-23, after which the facility is expected to be self-sustaining.

The report argues that revenue growth—composed primarily of property tax increases—is unpredictable and dependant on an expanding economy, “which is beyond the control of the [Board of Supervisors].”

“Given the risks of revenue shortfall … the Board of Supervisors must prepare alternative plans to fund the Northern Branch Jail operating cost,” the report continued. “A senior county official informed the 2013-14 Santa Barbara County grand jury that the preliminary budget plan is, ‘a leap of faith,’ and another said, ‘it could work.’”

The report recommends that the Board of Supervisors provide an annual update on the jail funding plan “concerning staffing and service cuts, revenue enhancements, or other options that may be necessary to fund [the jail] operating cost.”

The board had 90 days as of June 10 to reply to the report. The Sheriff’s Department couldn’t be reached for comment as of press time.