Brooks, Totten Gain 2 Allies in Fight for Funding

Times Staff Writer

Ventura County's sheriff and district attorney have gained two new allies in their legal fight against the Board of Supervisors over funding of their agencies.

Citizens for a Safe Ventura County and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. have filed briefs expressing support for the lawsuit Sheriff Bob Brooks and Dist. Atty. Greg Totten filed against the county in July.

Brooks and Totten allege the board's decision in 2001 to alter a local public safety ordinance was illegal and resulted in the misappropriation of tax dollars designated for their agencies.

"We're very pleased that the state's leading taxpayers' association has weighed in to protect the public's money," Totten said during a news conference near the East County Jail in Thousand Oaks, which the sheriff has threatened to close because of a funding shortfall.

Citizens for a Safe Ventura County helped collect more than 57,000 signatures for a petition favoring adoption of the funding ordinance in 1995.

As a result, the board voted 3 to 2 to approve the ordinance, which steers all proceeds from a half-cent sales tax to four public safety departments -- sheriff, district attorney, public defender and probation.

The four departments also receive inflationary increases paid by the county's general fund. The inflation factor is the major point of contention between law enforcement officials and the county board.

For years, supervisors allowed the public safety departments to include salary and benefit hikes in the funding formula, which led to annual inflationary increases of 7% to 10%. But in 2001, a majority of the board voted to alter the formula to reflect the Consumer Price Index, capping the growth at 3.75%.

After the sheriff and district attorney sued the county, the county turned around and filed a countersuit challenging the legality of the public safety ordinance, which supervisors contend interferes with their budgetary authority. They also say the ordinance does not specifically define the inflation provision.

But Scott Harris, president of the citizens' group, argued that only voters and not the supervisors have the right to change the funding ordinance.

"They've been playing a shell game with public safety funding since 1995," Harris said. "Worse than that, they're playing with the will of the people."

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