Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

A contract dispute has broken out between the four cities in Santa Barbara County that use the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement, with the cities saying they cannot trust or validate the method the sheriff uses to determine costs.

The same argument occurred last year, but informal talks led to the cost increase for patrol services going down from 40-51 percent to 19-21 percent in Goleta, Carpinteria, Buellton, and Solvang. In the contracts for this year, the sheriff used the same “revised cost methodology” for a 44 percent increase. This time, they’re headed for a mediator to work out their differences.

According to the cities, the cost method the sheriff is using is not in the agreement — which runs for four years, July 2019-June 2023 — and “the complexity of the model makes it difficult to trust and validate how the costs charged to the Cities are calculated year-to-year.” In a presentation to Goleta’s council in February, contractor Russ Branson Consulting noted that the cities’ cost increases seem linked to decreases in county costs, and that they’d found errors in how hours were coded. Overall, the four cities’ state patrol costs have increased by $2.5 million since 2018-2019, but this year’s proposal increases those costs to $4.1 million. “The contract is not being correctly or fairly administered,” the cities stated in a press release.

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The mayors of the four cities expressed respect for the sheriff’s deputies who provide the law enforcement services they receive and an appreciation for their long-standing relationship with the Sheriff’s Office. “Our relationship with the Sheriff’s Office is strong and we desire to keep it that way,” said Solvang’s Mayor Pro Tem Mark Infanti. “However, that relationship is being tested with what appears an unreasonable and unjustified cost increase. I sincerely hope the County, and the Sheriff’s Office, can readjust their cost proposal to an amount that is agreeable.”

But costs have gone up substantially, Sheriff Bill Brown told the Independent, and the amounts his office is asking for are “still significantly less expensive than the cost of these communities having their own police departments.” Brown disagreed strongly with the cities’ statements and went on to say that since they’ve agreed on mediation, “it would be improper for us to comment further.”

Speaking for the four cities, Goleta City Manager Michelle Greene noted that they were concentrating on a resolution to the issue and were in the process of selecting a mediator. The cities had not yet officially started looking into alternatives, she said, but “without a quick and agreeable resolution to the dispute under the existing contract with the Sheriff’s Office, the cities will be forced to do so soon.”

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