Local News

Feb 22, 2010 9:32 PM by Ariel Wesler

Massive county budget cuts could shut down Santa Maria jail

Santa Barbara County leaders are meeting tomorrow to sort out a nightmare budget situation as they look to fill a $40 million deficit.

That's about 20 percent of the county's $200 million budget. County officials blame the majority of the deficit on rising costs. In total, they're asking department heads to slash more than $50 million to keep the county above water.

In a worst-case scenario, the Santa Maria Branch of the Santa Barbara County jail could shut down if the Sheriff's Department is forced to cut $12 million from its budget. That would force the Santa Maria Police Department and the local California Highway Patrol to book those arrested in Santa Barbara.

40 deputy positions and 30 custody deputy positions would be eliminated including up to 300 beds from the Santa Barbara County jail.

With almost half of the county's budget going towards public safety, that's where cuts are likely to begin. All department heads must slash a combined $52 million dollars. That's equal to 392 full time employees, nearly 10 percent of the county's workforce.

"The only tool that the board has is basically layoffs because this is a big fish, this isn't a million dollar fish. It's a big fish," said Joni Gray, 4th District Santa Barbara County Supervisor.

As tax revenues flatline, some say higher salaries and employee benefits are costing the county millions more.

"Just in benefits that are owed, we're looking at right around $20 million," Gray said.

"There's no need in my opinion to go after retirement at this point in time. I think they've painted a picture that's not really the full picture, said Mick Robinson, a 26-year appraiser for the county.

The county hopes more budget workshops will bring it all into focus.

It's important to note no decisions have been made. Several budget workshops are still ahead. None of these proposed cuts would actually happen until the 2010-2011 budget is adopted in June.

If you'd like to attend, the budget meeting is expected to start tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria.

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