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State High Court Closes Door on Public Safety Funding Suit

August 19, 2006|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County government's long-running debate over public safety financing is finally over, officials said Friday.

The state Supreme Court this week denied a request by Sheriff Bob Brooks and Dist. Atty. Gregory Totten that it review a lower court's finding.

In May, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that a county ordinance guaranteeing set funding for public safety departments was unconstitutional. The high court's refusal to hear the case leaves the appellate court decision intact, said Deputy County Counsel Leroy Smith.

Undersheriff Craig Husband agreed that the battle is over.

"The fat lady has sung loud and clear," Husband said. Further litigation, he added, "is not something that we would consider."

The Board of Supervisors adopted the public safety ordinance in 1995 after supporters had collected enough signatures to put it on the ballot.

Grumbling about the complex funding formula's effect simmered quietly for years as public safety departments reaped double-digit increases while other county departments were making cuts.

In 2001, the Board of Supervisors changed the formula to tie law enforcement's increases to the cost of living index. That sparked the lawsuit, which has cost the county about $1.6 million.

Supervisor Steve Bennett, who had advocated changing the formula, said the time and expense of settling the matter in court was worth it.

"If we hadn't adjusted the inflation factor in 2001, we would be in a very difficult situation right now," Bennett said. "For the fiscal integrity of the county, it was worth it."

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