Santa Barbara County has won a $38 million state grant to build an inmate rehabilitation, recovery and re-entry facility next to its planned new North County Jail west of Santa Maria along Betteravia and Black Roads.
The County Board of Supervisors were told they needed to act on accepting the grant for the so-called STAR Complex facility, and agree to commit millions more of county funds to complete and operate the 227-bed facility that will focus on helping non-violent, repeat offenders return to society as productive, law-abiding citizens.
“It will increase safety and improve working and housing conditions for both staff and inmates”, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told Supervisors during a project update Tuesday morning, “and ultimately it will increase public safety by helping turn lives around and delivering programs that improve inmate re-entry into the community and reduce recidivism and the revolving door of people going back into the criminal justice system.”
Brown told the Board the programs would include substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation as well as educational and vocational job skills training in a medium-security custody environment.
The STAR facility would be built alongside the nearly $100-million, 376-bed North County Jail due to break ground next year and be completed by 2018, with most of the construction costs paid by the state.
Sheriff Brown said construction of the STAR facility could begin a year later and be completed by 2019.
“Certainly another major benefit is it adds jobs, and that it injects millions of dollars into our local economy”, Sheriff Brown.
Supervisors learned the county would be on the hook for nearly $18 million in staff and operating costs for both new jail facilities in the first year they open based on current estimates and projections.
“The County Grand Jury just released a report, and I hope everybody in the community reads it”, North County resident Teri Stricklin told Supervisors, “because they are questioning the operating costs and how you are going to pay for them.”
“The Sheriff’s claim that this is going to inject millions of dollars into our community, who do you think those millions of dollars came from?”, Stricklin told the Board, “they came from the taxpayers and taxpayers expect you to make decisions based on good information.”
Supervisors gave approval to accepting the state grant for the STAR facility but expressed concern about the annual staff and operating costs, as well as the county’s financial obligations should construction costs exceed current estimates.
Sheriff Brown was told to come back later this year with more exact numbers.
“The caution going forward to you Sheriff Brown and your staff is to get us the amount for this facility as soon as you can and as close as you can”, Supervisor Janet Wolf said.
The Board of Supervisors delayed a decision on a proposed Project Stabilization Agreement or PSA, that would cover labor contracts for construction of the project.
Also referred to as a Project Labor Agreement or PLA, the Board heard how the pact would cover awarding of construction bids for the new jail and resolve labor disputes that could delay construction.
“Project labor agreements are the only tried and true policy, public policy tool, at your disposal, that can assure local labor hires”, Hazel Davalos of CAUSE, a local community advocacy group.
Opponents of a PSA told the Board it would favor large, trade unions and general contractors over smaller, independent and local non-union contractors and sub-contractors that would be forced to pay union dues.
“Over 85 percent of the contractors in our local area are non-union”, local construction attorney Christine Mollenkopf told Supervisors, “I can tell you without exception every single one of them said if a PLA is put into place they will not bid this project. they are not interested in a project that would open the door to union participation.”
The Board voted 4-1 to delay a decision on a PSA or PLA to allow for more negotiations.
Supervisors have until September to make a final decision before the County can start awarding bids for the new North County Jail due to break ground in June 2015.