Four mayors are disputing an increased compensation proposal from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office that would drive up the cost of contracted law enforcement services by nearly 50% in some areas.
Mayors from Carpinteria, Solvang, Goleta and Buellton are preparing to send a joint letter, pending approval by their city councils, which would request a recalculation of charges from the Sheriff’s Office for fiscal year 2021-2022, which begins in July.
The four cities currently contract law enforcement services from the Sheriff’s Office and provide compensation based on annual agreements. According to the terms of the agreement, the Sheriff’s Office must provide an estimated compensation adjustment for each fiscal year by Nov. 1 and a final compensation adjustment by Jan. 15.
The source of the dispute is coming from significant leaps in the Sheriff’s Office’s proposed costs for the upcoming fiscal year. Officials in the four cities said they were alerted of an estimated 5.5% increase in costs from the Sheriff’s Office in November, but when the final compensation adjustment was announced in January, the cost was between 30-49% higher than last fiscal year.
“We are alarmed by the Sheriff’s Office’s unexpected, significant and unsupported proposed cost increases,” the four mayors wrote in the joint letter.
In a Council Staff Report from the city of Carpinteria, officials wrote that “no supporting evidence” was provided by the Sheriff’s Office to support the cost increases. On Feb. 8, the Carpinteria City Council sent a Notice of Dispute to the county concerning the calculation of monthly invoices that have already occurred for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, as well as the proposed costs for the 2021-2022 year.
The joint letter from the mayors would come as a follow-up to this notice.
The letter asks the Sheriff’s Office to recalculate charges for 2021-2022 fiscal year, provide the cities with more information to validate the need for proposed increases and participate in “good faith” negotiations for amendments to the established agreement for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
“This failure in transparency and collaboration, which is most dramatically evidenced by the extreme shift from the 5.5% estimated increase presented in November to the 27% to 45% final proposed cost increases in January, frustrates the very purpose of the agreements and highlights the necessity for remedial action and good-faith discussions,” the mayors wrote in the joint letter.
Buellton Mayor Holly Sierra told the News-Press Monday that it is typical for compensation costs to rise between 3 and 5% annually, but this year, the Sheriff’s Office is requesting a compensation amount that is 49% higher than last fiscal year for the city for Buellton.
For each of the four cities, paying for the contracted Sheriff’s Office services is the largest item on their annual budget. In Carpinteria, the Sheriff’s compensation accounts for 40% of all discretionary fund expenditures.
In Buellton, Mayor Sierra said the Sheriff’s Office’s service will remain the same despite the nearly 50% jump in price. Though the Buellton City Council has appreciated the “great service” provided by the Sheriff’s Office, if this issue is unresolved, Mayor Sierra said an increase this large may send the City Council looking elsewhere for contracting options in the future.
“I know our residents No. 1 concern is public safety, and I totally get it,” Ms. Sierra said. “I mean, we all live in Buellton, and public safety, fire and police have got to be No. 1 concerns. But the budget is (priority) No. 2, and (49%) is a big jump. I’m hoping we can resolve it.”
The Sheriff’s Office did not respond Monday to the News-Press’ request for comment.