Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown received $60 million from the state Thursday to build a new North County jail, a big step in the slow walk toward a much-needed custody facility.
While Brown had asked the state for $80 million, the Corrections Standards Authority (CSA) gave him only $60 million. The money comes to the county under the second phase of Assembly Bill 900. Thus far under the two phases, the state has passed out $1.2 billion to 22 counties for jails.
In order to make itself eligible for this new award, Santa Barbara had to relinquish a $56 million amount it received under phase one of AB 900. So, the county currently sits with $4 million more than it did at the beginning of the week. And it could still very well receive the full $80 million it requested. (The $56 million phase one money the county gave up could also be shifted and become phase two funding, and then potentially be applied to the county’s full $80 million request.)
Last year, Brown and his staff weighed their options and decided to drop the phase one award to pursue phase two money. As part of the deal under phase two, the amount the county would have to match would go down (the county now only has to match 10 percent instead of 25 percent), and the sheriff could increase the scope of his proposed project. (He did so, recommending a 376-bed project instead of 304.)
With a decades-long jail overcrowding issue, coupled with recent realignment putting more pressure on local governments to find space for state prisoners, the announcement of the award was a big one. Brown called Thursday’s state action “an important milestone” toward a new jail, though many challenges remain.
The biggest issue is how to fund new jail operations on an ongoing basis. It will take an estimated $17 million or so a year to run the facility — money the county doesn’t currently have budgeted. One of the eligibility requirements was to show the county is serious about opening the jail once it’s built. The county is still working out the details on how to get that money in place by the time a potential jail opens in 2018. To that end, the supervisors have approved a conceptual plan in which they would set aside funds each year over a period of 10 years to build up to the $17 million.
But the news out of Sacramento Thursday was important. The award was one of 11 given out today totaling $602 million. “This provides a major boost for California counties to house local inmates safely and effectively,” said Matthew Cate, CSA chairman, in a statement.
Santa Barbara County fell into the medium county group, along with seven others. The CSA board voted to give Stanislaus County the $80 million it was requesting, and Tulare County the $60 million it was requesting. Santa Barbara County only received three-quarters of the amount it asked for. Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange counties were awarded $100 million each.
“Ultimately, this means more bed space and better services at a lower cost to Santa Barbara County,” Brown said in a statement.