Officials complete first day of budget workshops
The County Board of Supervisors heard from leaders of each branch of the Public Safety Department during its first budget workshop of the week Monday.
Leaders from the county’s Public Defenders, District Attorney’s office, Fire Department, Probation Office and the Sheriff’s Office appeared before the Board of Supervisors to deliver their proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 and explain the delegation of funds for various expansion projects.
The county’s total preliminary budget to cover all operating expenses is projected at $1.34 billion for FY 2021-22. The Board of Supervisors will host additional budget hearings Wednesday and Friday of this week.
Sheriff Bill Brown, presenting on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office, proposed a budget of more than $176 million in the coming fiscal year, an increase of approximately $11 million compared to last year’s budget. In the coming year, the Sheriff’s Office is aiming to begin a remodel of their Main Jail, staff the new Northern Jail before it opens in the Summer and establish a new Data Analysis Unit to enhance the jail’s data collection and case management efforts.
In addition to these projects, Sheriff Brown cited various departmental needs for the budget increase, including the need for a more robust data center, an expansion of the Cannabis Compliance Team and the need for more Body Worn Camera equipment.
The need for better IT infrastructure is a common need across many departments within Public Safety, multiple leaders concurred. In a review of the county’s Public Safety Department over the past year, the auditing company KPMG recommended improving IT structures and data collection methods within the department’s various offices.
Public Defender Tracy Macuga said her office’s IT team is “razor thin” and overworked. During her presentation, Ms. Macuga said the Public Defenders are proposing a budget of more than $16 million for the next fiscal year, which includes an expansion of $382,000 to increase staffing and IT support.
“The pandemic forced a radical and accelerated change in the criminal justice system as a whole that few were prepared for,” Ms. Macuga said during the meeting. “Our strength was collaboration, but our weakness was and still is, and it’s been outlined here today, outdated IT infrastructure, inadequate IT Support, processes and procedures heavily reliant on paper and frankly stubborn artifacts of doing some things the same old way.”
Both Ms. Macuga and District Attorney Joyce Dudley pointed to a “historic backlog of cases” that is currently plaguing the court system in Santa Barbara due to the pandemic. During her presentation, Ms. Dudley told the board one her office’s primary goals for next fiscal year is addressing and mitigating the backlog, which will likely include increasing diversion efforts. She also nodded toward a need for a more robust digital case management system.
The District Attorney’s office is proposing a budget of more than $30 million for FY 2021-22 with $1 million in expansions to hire clerks, data analysts and a new coordinator to oversee their child abuse database known as eSCARS.
Chief Probation Officer Tanja Heitman presented a proposed budget of more than $63 million during Monday’s meeting, proposing an expansion of $384,900 to enhance the department’s Pretrial Supervision Program and expand support staffing. The Probation department’s proposed operating budget is $1 million higher than last year’s budget.
County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig also appeared before the board on Monday, presenting a proposed budget of more than $93 million, marking an increase of approximately $5 million compared to last year’s budget. Chief Hartwig said the Fire Department is eyeing a few potential projects for next fiscal year, including a rebuild of Station 27 in Cuyama, the creation of a Regional Fire Communication Facility and necessary repairs and replacement of equipment.
During Monday’s hearing, the Board also questioned leaders from the Public Safety Department on their efforts toward diversion and keeping the jail population low. Since the pandemic, the county jail’s population has dropped from more than 900 inmates to just more than 600 inmates, and the Board is aiming to keep this momentum going forward.
Ms. Macuga of the Public Defenders recommended more transparency and data sharing among the various departments, explaining that a database would help the public understand the “effectiveness and fairness of the criminal justice system.” She pointed to a database created in Yolo County that showcases the county’s criminal justice data.
All departmental heads agreed that the dashboard would improve transparency and agreed they would offer data, though some voiced concerns about putting stats on a dashboard prematurely. Ms. Dudley of the District Attorney’s office said she would want her office to seek out additional data before publishing data that could be misleading.
“I don’t trust the data that exists. I don’t feel we have a system that supports that actual data,” Ms. Dudley said. “That’s why every law enforcement agency, every public safety agency and every criminal justice agency is asking for that. Sharing poor data is misinforming our community and misinforming your board. I want to get to the actual data and absolutely share it in every way possible.”