Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors generally expressed support for budget proposals from the county’s justice-related departments during the second budget workshop Wednesday, although the sheriff was told he might not get everything he asked for.
In the midst of the budget presentations, a bomb threat was made against what Sheriff Bill Brown said were “the building and several people,” which resulted in a 90-minute delay in the board returning from lunch.
As a result, Board Chairman and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said the special issue presentations scheduled on homelessness and a library update will be heard first during Friday’s budget workshop.
A recurring theme was expressed Wednesday by heads of the five justice-related departments — Sheriff’s, District Attorney’s, Public Defender’s, Probation and Court Special Services.
That theme was about working together to reduce the number of people incarcerated, increasing diversion programs for people involved in nonviolent crimes, reducing the time necessary to bring a case to trial and expanding training and procedures for responding to calls involving people with mental illness.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a time when I felt more collaboration,” Lavagnino said at one point.
Supervisors heard personal stories from the public about how the lives of loved ones and their families had been helped by co-response teams that included deputies and a mental health specialist.
Those who spoke during public comment pleaded with the board to continue and expand the crisis intervention training.
All of the departments reported no service reductions are anticipated, and most requests for expansion were modest.
The $154.4 million budget proposal presented by Sheriff Bill Brown included an increase of 19.2 full-time employees, including 13.8 custody deputies at an ongoing cost of $1.47 million and a chief deputy sheriff at an ongoing cost of $3541,700.
Other restoration and expansion requests included jail control room consolidation at $1.35 million, replacement of in-car computer systems at $1.1 million and replacement of the data center at $1.34 million.
With several other personnel and programs included, total expansion requests came to $4.89 million in one-time expenditures, with $2.81 million in ongoing costs.
Lavagnino reviewed a number of the anticipated accomplishments and performance measures from the current fiscal year, including that the department has only 5% of its positions vacant.
“The fact that violent crime is down 20%, that’s a great message,” he said. “These are all very positive signs. We obviously can’t do everything you want, but we’re going to do everything we can.”
Public Defender Tracy Macuga said her office is “facing a tsunami of technical and cost” issues, with duties and responsibilities expanding each year, and asked for an increase of two staff members and other expansion requests totaling $344,200 in her $13.2 million proposed budget.
She expressed concern about trial delays, which she said is a “district attorney, court and public defender issue.”
She also urged the board to support Brown’s request to fund the behavioral science unit manager.
“I really appreciate your big-picture thinking,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams told her.
Chief Probation Officer Tanja Heitman said her department is facing continuous challenges from legislative changes, including a bill that could eliminate the fees paid by offenders, which make up about 3% of the department’s $58.69 million budget.
She said an effort of her department is to move juvenile justice from punishment to a multifaceted approach, citing a reduction in the percentage of youths incarcerated and in group homes.
“I think you’re doing a fabulous job,” said 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart, who told Heitman if her trial program is successful at mid-year to return to the board if she needs more money.
District Attorney Joyce Dudley said she had no expansion requests in her $27.34 million proposed budget, although she noted legislative changes could lead to relitigating cases decades old at an additional cost.
She also said her office is looking at upcoming complex cases — the largest and most violent gang case in county history, a triple-homicide and the statewide Golden State Killer serial murder case — that will also increase costs.
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann praised Dudley’s program IV Safe, which she said “made a huge difference” in Isla Vista where sexual assault cases had been on the rise.
Court Executive Officer Darrel Parker told supervisors the Superior Court is an independent agency of the state but is funded by the county under contract.
Court Special Services operating budget of $14.7 million included a general fund contribution of $9.27 million, with $1.34 million coming from fines, fees and forfeitures.
But he noted that recently there has been a decline in public support for fines and appropriations, which could affect future funding.
He said he also shares Macuga’s concern about trial delays and noted the court is going to track the oldest cases to see why they are not coming to trial in a timely manner.
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