The true cost of operating the proposed North County jail remains very much a moving target as a private consultant hired at the behest of the Santa Barbara County supervisors contends the price will be $3 million a year greater than projected. Carter Goble Associates states that the Sheriff’s Office needs to hire 20 more jail personnel than it’s currently planning to in order to run the jail system countywide. When the additional personnel costs are included, that bumps the annual price tag by $1.75 million. Another consultant concluded that the Sheriff’s financial projections failed to account for $17 million in deferred maintenance costs at the existing jail that must be addressed in the years to come. Those two discrepancies — when annualized — account for the $3 million-a-year difference in opinion.
In making their findings, the consultants assumed the existence of 1,192 beds in the North and South County facilities. That’s 65 more beds than Carter Goble estimated were necessary based on crime and booking trends, which show an 11 percent drop in booking between 2004 and 2014. Last year’s passage of Proposition 47 — which reduced six felony drug-possession charges to misdemeanors — led to an immediate plunge in the jail’s average daily population, but that’s now turning around.
Sheriff’s spokesperson Kelly Hoover said Carter Goble’s report represents a “best case” scenario when it comes to jail staffing, adding, “We have operated at minimal staffing for several years in the main jail.” In recent months, county supervisors have cast a more skeptical look at the two new incarceration facilities proposed for North County and have questioned whether they were getting good information from the Sheriff as to the costs. Whether the differential is a deal killer remains to be seen. County supervisors will mull the issue over at their meeting November 17. If recent discussions provide any indication, next week’s deliberations promise to be intense, complicated, and contentious.