County moves ahead with regional center despite sheriff’s concerns
Recommendations concerning the Regional Fire Communications Facility ignited debate Tuesday between Sheriff Bill Brown and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
But despite the sheriff’s objections, the board unanimously approved the facility, which was supported by fire chiefs attending the meeting at the County Administration Building in Santa Barbara.
The meeting also featured the Commission for Women Annual Report and the 2021-2022 First Quarter Budget Update.
The Regional Fire Communication facility is an expansion upon the existing Emergency Operations Center, which will redirect emergency calls in order to optimize which first responders to dispatch.
The cost of the facility is $11 million with estimated annual operating costs of $4.9 million.
“Cooperation and regionalism is really significant,” Supervisor Joan Hartmann said about the facility. “It’s the most important part of the project.”
While the county’s fire chiefs suggest this will have a positive effect on response times, Sheriff Brown objected to the project for financial and interpersonal reasons.
“All calls would have to be transferred to fire and EMS,” Sheriff Brown told the board, speaking remotely. “Having a consolidated dispatch center was a key ingredient to the exemplary handling of these collaborative events.”
Sheriff Brown also disagreed with the significant costs of the project.
But the board responded positively to the Communications Facility during the following discussion.
“This is much bigger than a turf battle,” said Supervisor Das Williams. “This is about how we can get there with the closest available resource as rapidly as possible.”
“There have been opportunities to do things differently and collaborate, and those opportunities weren’t taken by the Sheriff’s Department,” Supervisor Gregg Hart told the board. “They were taken by the Fire Department, and that’s why every single fire chief is here today in solidarity with this plan.”
The board followed the County Fire Department’s recommendation and approved the facility unanimously.
County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig told the board that construction would take place under a tentative 30-month timeline.
The board additionally moved forward with Proposed Certificates of Participation Financing and the Adoption of a Reimbursement Resolution for several capital projects.
The six projects include the Main Jail rehabilitation, a Public Safety Radio Network Replacement, Cachuma Lake RV Park Renovations, the Probation Headquarters Project, the Regional Fire Communication Center and the Fire Station 27 Rebuild in Cuyama.
The combined cost of the projects is around $95 million.
The board unanimously moved forward with these projects and agreed to a reimbursement resolution, which declares the county’s intent to reimburse project expenditures incurred prior to debt issuance.
“We’re tackling big projects in the County and we’re tackling $100 million more,” noted Supervisor and Chair Bob Nelson. “We’re continuing to put a commitment as a Board towards infrastructure.”
The board also had a brief overview of the First Quarter Budget of 2021-2022.
The general fund has a projected $3.1 million of positive variance — in other words, more money than expected — driven almost entirely by probation at $1.8 million and general revenues at $1.6 million.
Conversely, the Sheriff’s Office has a projected negative variance — or less money than expected — of -$1.2 million. This number is a result of legislative changes and overtime costs throughout this year.
In other business, several representatives for the county Commission for Women shared the panel’s highlights from the past year during its annual report to the Board of Supervisors.
The commission noted several examples of community outreach including public gatherings and marches, the distribution of the film “Pass the Mic” and administration of COVID-19 personal protection equipment.
“We were very fortunate with our connections to Good360 this year to give away masks to farm workers,” Commission for Women Chair Alison Wales told the board. “The Women’s Commission tried to get out there and provide for organizations that could not provide for themselves.”
The Board of Supervisors expressed its appreciation to the commission for its report and service this past year.
“It’s always a pleasure when we hear a report back about the things that you’re doing,” Supervisor Hart said. “You aren’t deterred by the challenges of the moment and the adaptations necessary to continue the work.”
Supervisor and Vice Chair Joan Hartmann additionally voiced her support saying, “You really are active and our eyes and ears in the community, and I really appreciate what you’re doing.”