H-SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Jun 17, 2011 9:23 PM by Ariel Wesler

SB County budget approved; SM jail goes part time

The Santa Maria jail will only stay open three days a week. Santa Barbara county supervisors approved the 2011-2012 budget after five days of intense discussion. They allocated $360,000 for the Santa Maria jail. That's enough to keep it open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 8pm-4am.

The decision to keep the Santa Maria jail open part time will likely mean more drive time for local law enforcement.

"It's much better than closing it all together. It's still very problematic, said Santa Maria Police Chief Dan Macagni.

He expects to cite and release 80 percent of people his officers arrest instead of transporting them to the main jail in Goleta.

"We'll only transport the most violent criminals. We're looking at who can be issued a citation and released," Macagni said.

The sheriff has already made big cuts in the last three years totaling $5.6 million but this year's grim budget picture put him in toughest financial spot of his career.

"Do we cut the jail deputy or do we cut the deputy on the street? Do we cut the jail deputy or do we cut the deputy that's the detective?" said Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown during an interview Monday.

County supervisors chopped a million dollars out of the general fund and put it aside to eventually pay for a new north county jail.

"We've got a 15-year plan that's going to get us to where we can start funding the jail," 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.

But until then, local leaders in Santa Maria say you'll personally have to pitch in to keep the community secure.

"In my neighborhood, other neighborhoods, you're going to have more thugs, more gangsters, and it's going to make Santa Maria less safe," Lavagnino said.

"We need the public's help to get involved, be more aware of their environment, do more to protect themselves, and be very cautious," Macagni said

He doesn't have any estimates as to how much more this decision will cost his department.

The county says the fire department fared pretty well when talks finished about its budget. Supervisors allocated one million dollars for the fire department to keep its air operations unit. The county had considered getting rid of the air operations altogether. The department will have to eliminate its fuel fires crew. Those are crews that cut brush and create fire breaks. The county fire department says it received 11,500 calls last year.

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