County should rethink distribution of Prop. 172 public safety tax

June 07, 2000
Santa Paula News
The Ventura County Grand Jury released an interim report to urge the county to rethink distribution of Proposition 172 revenues, a special voter mandated sales tax add on that funds public safety. The report, released May 25, said county supervisors should rescind the 5-year-old ordinance mandating Prop. 172 funds for public safety, and use the surplus to help bail out the county’s fiscal shortfall.Ventura County is the only county in the state that adopted such an ordinance after a public outcry and petition drive to lock the money in for public safety only, noted the Grand Jury report.But, “The current board cannot be bound by budget decisions of past boards,” noted the Grand Jury report.Prop. 172 was passed in 1993, a statewide initiative mandating a half-cent sales tax - first implemented to cover earthquake emergencies - to be used for public safety purposes. The funding has been the focus of a budget tug-of-war between the county’s interim leader, Harry Hufford, and public safety officials.The ballot summary on Prop. 172 stated in part: “To assist local governments in maintaining a sufficient level of public safety services, the proceeds of the tax enacted pursuant to this section shall be designated exclusively for public safety.” However, the proposition allowed individual counties to define public safety.The Grand Jury report noted that only four departments receive Prop. 172 monies, sheriff’s (which has returned about $30 million to the county General Fund since the ordinance adoption), district attorney, probation and public defender. Left with an empty Prop. 172 bag is the county Fire Department, which has an alternative source of state funds as a fire district.
The funds were instrumental in the staffing for opening the Todd Road Jail, noted the report, and enabled the county to prosecute more misdemeanors and a higher percentage of cases overall compared to other counties.Hufford has called for law enforcement budget cuts - $6.5 million alone for the Sheriff’s Department - to help balance the upcoming budget. The projected Prop. 172 income for the sheriff’s department in the preliminary budget is $29,942,970.The Grand Jury recommended that the budgets of public safety departments and allocations as well as proposed use of Prop. 172 revenue should be reviewed annually by supervisors as part of the overall budget process; the sheriff’s department should “budget more accurately so that excess funds, now included in its budget and returned to the General Fund at the end of the year, are available to other agencies during the course of the fiscal year. . .if necessary, the county’s contingency fund should pay department overruns caused by unforeseen emergencies”; supervisors should rescind the Prop. 172 adopted county ordinance; and that all must work together to ensure availability of funding for staffing of the Juvenile Justice complex when it is completed.”The Grand Jury asked for a response from supervisors and various public safety agencies.

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