By Malia Spencer

Efforts to build a North County Jail using a partnership between Santa Barbara County and the state are moving forward despite concerns about the ongoing operational funding for the new facility.

The Board of Supervisors approved a series of actions Tuesday that move the plans forward, including the initiation of eminent domain proceedings to acquire the property needed.

In addition, the board authorized Sheriff Bill Brown to submit an application to the state seeking funds for the project. Under recent state legislation there is money available to help local jurisdictions build county jails if the project also includes a “secure re-entry facility” for state prison inmates who are approaching their release date.

It is estimated that building a North County Jail will cost $80 million but under the state incentive, the county may have to cover no more than about $29 million of the total.

California is under pressure to reduce the number of inmates in state prisons.

However, the annual operating costs for the county’s portion of a combined facility has been estimated between $12 million to $15 million, and no funding source has been identified for that expense.

Meanwhile, county officials are focusing their efforts on buying a 50-acre site west of Santa Maria near Betteravia Road and Black Road. The land is owned by Agland Venture Capital Group Inc., which has told the county that it does not oppose continuing negotiations to sell the property.

However, a question about legal title to the property may complicate the process and has led the county to initiate eminent domain proceedings as a way to acquire the land in time to meet the March 18 deadline to apply for state funds.

It was the willingness of the land owner to work with the county that led 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno to vote in favor of the action, he told the rest of the board.

Much of the board discussion Tuesday focused on timelines and when the county would be bound to the project, should the county receive the state funds. Supervisors said they were concerned about over-extending the county and whether the state would be able to deliver the funds.

County staff members noted that the state funds would be generated with bonds, so revenue would earmarked for jail facilities, so if the state withheld the money it would be exposed to litigation.

The board also asked staff to begin to identify funding options for long-term operation of the facility that would have 300 county jail beds. The construction and ongoing cost of operating the state’s 500-bed re-entry facility would fall on the state.

With the supervisors’ approval of the actions, Brown said, the application for the county’s proposal would be sent to Sacramento where county officials will make a presentation. The county expects to receive word of an award of the grant by May.

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