Public safety funding will increase $20.5 million over the amount budgeted for the current fiscal year after the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved a recommended 2020-21 budget that essentially maintains the status quo and doesn’t grant expansions requested by individual departments.

The Sheriff’s Office will account for more than half that increase, a sharp contrast to the $527,000 cut the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department took in that county’s budget hearings this week.

The Santa Barbara County sheriff’s increase mostly goes to such things as a negotiated cost-of-living increase for personnel and doesn’t include any of the department’s expansion requests.

However, a memorandum from County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato pointed out $688,200 in general fund money has not been allocated, and the board could direct some of those dollars to cannabis enforcement-related requests from the Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s offices.

Miyasato said the proposed budget has been dubbed “Navigating through to the next normal,” not the “new normal” because that implies something permanent, and she said the situation is constantly changing with regard to COVID-19, state and federal funding, county revenues and natural and manmade disasters.

“What is the next normal for us?” she asked. “We don’t know, but we need to be resilient and in a state where we can address those things.”

The discussion unfolded Tuesday as county supervisors considered a recommended budget that uses cannabis taxes and strategic reserve funds to backfill the $27.3 million in lost revenue and increased costs expected from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Miyasato said without the backfill, 66 employees of the Social Services Department would have been affected, with the biggest impact on services for children.

Supervisors could choose to use $488,400 in unallocated cannabis revenues for another cannabis enforcement team requested by the Sheriff’s Office that would include a sergeant, four detectives and an administration office professional for a one-time cost of $300,000 and ongoing annual costs of $1.2 million.

The District Attorney’s Office has asked for a full-size truck for its cannabis enforcement team at an initial cost of $41,300 and ongoing annual costs of $5,000.

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Hart seemed inclined to use any unallocated funds and staff efforts to restructure the way the jail system operates, pointing out the COVID-19 pandemic had shown the jail population could be drastically reduced.

He said in 2018 just 2% of the county population was black but 8% of jail inmates were black, while 41% of the county was Hispanic but 58% of jail inmates were Hispanic.

“Those numbers are facts that can’t be denied and command a different response,” Hart said. “We cannot do business as we have going forward. … I would hope we would take this moment to respond to what the community is asking us to do, to do what history is demanding us to do, and no longer wait on this subject.”

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said she would like to see more data and analysis from the sheriff’s office and make adjustments in who is assigned to various incidents.

“It all starts with the 911 call and who responds,” she said.

First District Supervisor Das Williams supported Hart’s position but said he wanted to reduce the number of people in jail awaiting trial and increase the number on home detention to cut costs and speed up the judicial system.

“Yes, we do have a lower [jail] population now, but I want to see how that works,” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino. “We’ve got to see what happens out in the community. … There are a lot of people out there relying on us to protect them, as well.”

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam said he wanted to speak for blind justice and against chaos, adding that just because the county has, numbers on jail demographics didn’t mean the “system is endemically racist.”

“We’re hearing from one side right now,” he said. “But when the chaos comes, and it will, because the pendulum will get to the other side, and then you’ll be hearing from the other people that are victims of the chaos and they will want some order — and you will give it to them, because that’s the history of the way things go.”


County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.

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