Santa Barbara supervisors this week poked holes in a Grand Jury report that faulted the county’s savings scheme for the North County Jail’s $17.3 million annual operating costs. Released in June, the report didn’t envision a successful execution of the plan — which has seen growing tax revenues set aside incrementally since 2011 — or a strong likelihood that the board, now and in the future, would stick to it. Instead, the jury wrote, salary and budget freezes would likely join layoffs and tax hikes to make up the difference if the economy doesn’t yield the revenue needed for the plan to work.
But where the Grand Jury said the plan depended on property-tax increases of no less than 3.5 percent yearly, county officials countered that the funding plan actually only needs one percent growth to work. Similarly, the county won’t have to funnel as much as 28 percent of that growth to its savings account (as the report hypothesized) but can manage with smaller allotments. The Grand Jury took particular issue with how the plan would function in conjunction with the extra property-tax monies going toward County Fire, a move approved in 2012; coupling that slice of the pie with the jail’s would mean dwindling dollars for other departments, the jury warned. But county number crunchers say there will still be more than 70 percent of tax growth left over for other departments.
Where the Grand Jury made a good point, county staff said, was in its finding that the Assessor’s office could benefit from more employees to handle its workload. Last year, said Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Joe Holland, his office didn’t finish all the work it needed to for the first time in 12 years. He cited staffing reductions and lack of time and resources to train new hires. Holland said three new appraisers and one new analyst would help.
Supervisor Doreen Farr pointed to how the supervisors dealt with the recession as a litmus test for how the county will fare with its jail-funding plan. “We were really tested over the past five years, and we did what had to be done, and we kept county government going. That is our responsibility,” she said. “I know we’ll deal with it successfully.”