At last week’s Feb. 8 Carpinteria City Council meeting, decisionmakers agreed to formally dispute the city’s contract with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office over significant and unexpected increases to the cost of police services – resulting in a 37% increase in the cost for services over previous years. The increase adds $1.28 million to the city’s police budget, bringing the total proposed annual expense from roughly $4 million to some $5 million.

Annually, the city of Carpinteria contracts with the Sheriff’s Office for police services, including two regular deputy sheriff units. Law enforcement services currently represent about 40% of the city’s discretionary spending.

In a letter to Sheriff Bill Brown which serves as the “Notice of Contract Dispute,” Carpinteria City Manager Dave Durflinger wrote, “the Sheriff’s Office has failed to satisfy its contractual obligation to work transparently and collaboratively with the city in order to avoid unexpected cost increases. This failure, evidenced by the dramatic shift from a 5.5% increase to a 37% increase over the course of a two-month period, frustrates not only the text – but also the spirt and purpose – of the agreement.”

Each year, police services in Carpinteria make up roughly 17,520 hours – hours allocated to the sworn and support personnel required to support two patrol positions, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, last March, the city was informed that the Sheriff’s Office would be adding costs for additional patrol time above the agreed 17,520 hours without negotiation or evidence of need over three continuous months, as the contract’s terms dictate, according to the city’s legal counsel Jena Shoaf Acos. 

In his letter, Durflinger stated that these overages had not been documented sufficiently to answer the questions, “how much time was worked, by whom, and for what purpose,” information that the city needs to determine if the time was correctly allocated. 

Moreover, the city contends that the contract does not allow for the Sheriff’s Office to assess overages on an ongoing basis nor to unilaterally increase the number of hours without negotiation and a written amendment to the contract. Additionally, Durflinger noted that the Sheriff’s Office increased the hourly wage rate “without providing any support or explanation.” 

“We have a general breakdown of the hours charged in our contract,” Shoaf Acos told the council. “What we’re trying to understand is whether it’s the patrol time ... but specifically, the out of area cars, and what the reason is behind them coming into the city and why the city is charged for those cars.”

Durflinger went on to state in the written notice that the Sheriff’s Office had “breached its contractual obligation to work transparently and collaboratively with the city.” Citing missed deadlines, quick changes to costs, and failing to provide information and data to justify changes, Durflinger called into question the methodology and rationale of the Sheriff’s cost increases, and stated that after an in-depth review process, the city might raise further challenges to “past, present or future conduct.” 

“We’ve had a very successful relationship with the sheriff’s department, delivering law enforcement services to the Carpinteria community,” Durflinger said at the Feb. 8 meeting, acknowledging that the city has contracted with the Sheriff’s Office since the 1990s. 

“Law enforcement services are very expensive, as you can imagine. They’re the most expensive single item in the city’s budget, currently about $4 million in the 2020-2021 budget,” said Duflinger. 

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