By Raiza Giorgi

The Solvang City Council unanimously voted to send a letter to the County of Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors and County Sheriff’s Office to collectively express the Council’s surprise and disappointment with the Sheriff’s Office’s recent announcement proposing substantial increased costs for law enforcement services.

Law enforcement costs are the City’s largest single General Fund expenditure, representing nearly 25 percent of all discretionary fund expenditures, according to the council staff report. Historically, law enforcement services have helped to maintain a very low crime rate in the City of Solvang since 1985. The Sheriff’s current crime stats for 2019 show a 10 percent decline in overall crime with a 36 percent decrease in violent crime and 7 percent decrease in property crime.

The current agreement runs from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2023.

“There was a change in methodology and it also changed the calculations in how the county calculates the costs from using budgetary numbers to using actual numbers based on two years ago,” said Xenia Bradford, Solvang City Manager. 

The Agreement included provisions for making annual adjustment in compensation for the quantity of law enforcement services and the county would provide that estimation of adjustment before November 1 os each year with final recomputation on or before Jan. 15 of the fiscal year. 

The Sheriff’s not only contract with Solvang but the cities of Buellton, Carpinteria and Goleta. 

“There are some questions to where some of the terms are inconsistent with how the contract is written and the items not fully flushed out with the contract terms,” Bradford said. 

On Nov. 10 the Sheriff’s submitted their estimated increase of 5.5 percent with no data or explanation Bradford reported, and on Jan. 14, 2021 Bradford said the cities were shocked to see a 37 percent increase in annual costs. This last fiscal year the City spent $1.8 million and this year the estimated increase was just under $2.5 million. 

“That’s $700,000 increase,” Councilmember Mark Infanti gasped. 

Bradford said based on preliminary data, the computation for the annual costs was not done within the parameters of the agreement. 

The city is disputing the proposed increase, as are all the contracted cities who are banding together to send a formal notice to the county and the Sheriff’s department and until they can independently verify the data. 

“A lot of the data has not been provided to the cities, and this was dropped on the cities the day before the deadline. This letter is to provide those elected officials with information and the cities are not able to absorb these costs and not even all the information to analyze these costs,” Bradford said. 

They are now working on a weekly basis with the Sheriff’s to resolve the matter, she added. 

The City of Buellton said they saw the largest amount of percentage increase and were facing down just around a million dollar increase. 

“Law enforcement is our biggest expenditure and usually we place that first and then work in all the other costs that need to be incorporated. This amount of increase though is problematic and we haven’t seen the justification for that yet, but the Sheriff’s have been very open and willing to work this out so far,” said Scott Wolfe, City Manager for Buellton. 

Wolfe added they have about a month to work out through the dispute resolution and they hope to accomplish that without having to take any further steps. 

The cities are asking the Sheriff’s to recalculate the charges that are consistent with the terms of each city’s agreement to provide law enforcement; provide the cities with sufficient information to verify confirm any and all cost increases and participate in good faith negotiations to develop amendment to the agreement to prevent being blindsided again. 

The cities are also asking for any cost increases be delayed until next fiscal year.

“The Cities will use this time to independently confirm and validate the information provided by the Sheriff’s Office regarding the methodology that resulted in this year’s dramatic proposed costs increases. This time will also allow all parties the ability to engage in good faith negotiations regarding the adoption of amendments to the Agreements designed to ensure that this situation does not reoccur,” the letter states. 

Two of the five council members are current or former employees of the Sheriff’s department including Jim Thomas who was the former Sheriff for the county. 

Mayor Charlie Uhrig is a current employee of the Sheriff’s department. 

The council also voted to create an Employee of the Quarter Policy that acknowledges employee achievement and as a means to interact with the community. They will be given $100 and a certificate commemorating the occasion and on the city newsletter. 

To watch the entire meeting visit YouTube and search City of Solvang for February 22, 2021.