The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors discussed the county’s proposed $1.35 billion budget, which features more than $31 million in cannabis revenue, during a hearing Tuesday.
The budget for the upcoming fiscal year is $160.5 million higher than last year’s budget. It’s bolstered in part by funding from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan Act and increases in cannabis revenue.
During Tuesday’s meeting, supervisors pitched potential ideas for uses of the cannabis tax revenue and discretionary funding from ARPA.
After deliberations, the supervisors agreed to provide ongoing funding to cover the hire of an ordinance planner in the Planning & Development Department, additional misdemeanor staffing for the Public Defender’s Office and a cost of living adjustment for county libraries.
For the fulfillment of one-time funding sources, the County Board of Supervisors allocated funding for parks, trails and open spaces in North County; Santa Maria recreation; parks and trails in the South County; a library consultant and cannabis-funded mobility projects.
In addition to these deliberations, the Board of Supervisors also heard a lengthy presentation from the county’s public safety departments. The district attorney’s, public defender’s and sheriff’s offices elaborated on additional budget requests for the coming fiscal year.
The public safety departments pitched their original budgets during hearings in April.
In the coming fiscal year, the District Attorney’s Office is requesting an additional $260,000 in ongoing funds to establish a post-conviction litigation unit. The Public Defender’s Office is asking for more than $150,000 to promote two extra help deputies to permanent staff.
And the Sheriff’s Office is requesting more than $1 million for the expansion of its cannabis compliance team and funding for future data center replacements.
The supervisors ended up granting the public defender’s request for additional funding to increase staffing.
The budget for the Sheriff’s Office has been a contentious topic for supervisors in recent weeks. Officials are eyeing ways to keep the jail population low while addressing the historic backlog of cases piling up during the pandemic.
Tracy Macuga, the head of the Public Defender’s Office, asked supervisors to “level the playing field” by providing her department with the adequate funds to have a more equitable justice system.
During her presentation, the public defender said many minorities in the region feel “betrayed to a criminal justice system that over-polices, over-incarcerates and over-supervises.”
“I suspect those of us, like myself, who believe (systemic racism) permeates our criminal justice system will most likely never convince those who adamantly believe otherwise that it is a liberal fiction, a historical artifact or a simple case of a bad apple,” Ms. Macuga said. “But what we should as public servants be able to agree upon and cannot ignore is the simple fact that black and brown members of our community distrust the police.”
She later added, “Black and brown members of our community and those of us calling for reform feel unheard, and ignored when annual budgets continue to prioritize policing, prosecution and incarceration over community investment without any proof that our community is made safer by long-standing war-on-crime policies. To have a fair and equitable justice system, you need a strong and well-funded public defender office.”
Ms. Macuga’s beliefs were echoed by a number of public commenters who said they believed supervisors should utilize a portion of the sheriff’s proposed budget to reform the Santa Barbara County Jail and expand diversion programs and mental health help to inmates and offenders.
As supervisors considered how to balance public safety while prioritizing diversion, Sheriff Bill Brown told the board that while the Sheriff Office’s budget is large, it is not “bloated” and is “inadequately budgeted in many areas,” particularly custody and control operations.
In addition, Sheriff Brown said many of the initiatives and reforms taken on by his office are “often unnoticed ignored or unacknowledged” by critics.
“We, as your Sheriff’s Office, have embraced for many years rehabilitation, diversion and second chances for criminal offenders,” Sheriff Brown said Tuesday. “We have a very robust system of this. We have a Sheriff’s Treatment Program that is doing wonderful work with inmates and helping them conquer addictions and get a hold of their lives and get on a better track in life.”
He continued, “But a key element in the foundation of safety and security in our community that’s provided by the Sheriff’s Office is also the arrest and confinement of criminal offenders who threaten the safety and security of the people who live in Santa Barbara County. And it’s very, very important for us to continue to have the ability and the proper capacity to be able to do that.”
The supervisors will meet again Thursday for further deliberations and presentations on the county’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year.