Grand Jury reports taxpayers hit twice by VCCCD sheriff’s academy cost
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: June 08, 2012
Santa Paulans - who lost out big time when they supported a notorious community college initiative - as well as other county residents are charged twice for a sheriff’s academy paid for with community college bond funds, according to a report by the Ventura County Grand Jury.
Voters agreed to pay for the academy when they approved Measure S in 2002. The measure also included approximately $25 million for a highly publicized permanent Ventura Community College East Campus in Santa Paula. Local voters had a rate of approval on Measure S higher than any other city in the county.
Measure S also provided funding for the community college district to build the sheriff’s academy and a fire academy next door, as well as other buildings on its three campuses. After construction dragged on and the district claimed they were running short of funds, half of Santa Paula’s promised allotment was shifted to the public safety training academy project; the balance of the funds earmarked for the local campus - about $12.5 million - was used for finishing projects at other district campuses.
According to the Grand Jury, taxpayers are now paying for the sheriff’s academy again because the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department is leasing the building from the district for $124,488 a year. The reason, according to the report, is centered on the sheriff’s office and college district failure to agree on how to staff the academy - whether the instructors would be sheriff’s deputies or college instructors.
Originally, the sheriff’s office had agreed to pay the district $1 a year to lease the building as well as to provide instructors and furniture. When the rules changed, “that necessitated a lease agreement before the Sheriff could occupy the academy.”
In addition, the Grand Jury found the information on the lease agreement was not included in the June 2011 Annual Report of the Citizens Oversight Committee. As reported in the Ventura County Star, James Meznek, the retiring chancellor of the district, challenged some of the Grand Jury’s findings, saying the lease did not have to be approved by voters.
According to the report, due to an escalator clause in the lease the total cost in rent to county taxpayers - owners who pay approximately $20 per $100,000 of assessed property value - will exceed $2.6 million over the 15-year lease. “This amount,” noted the Grand Jury report, “did not appear on the cost disclosure portion of the ballot” for the bond in 2002.
In March 2002 the bond measure was passed by 65.6 percent or 77,854 votes and authorized VCCCD to issue $356,347,814 of bonds, “to prepare students for jobs and four year colleges at Ventura, Moorpark, Oxnard Colleges, Education Centers at Camarillo, Conejo, Santa Paula and Simi Valley by repairing/constructing/equipping classrooms, laboratories, libraries, sites; replacing deteriorating buildings; upgrading fire safety, plumbing, heating systems, electrical wiring for computer technology, and upgrading police/firefighting/nursing/paramedic training centers.”
The Grand Jury wrote, “Public safety officials agreed to support Measure S and sold it to the public with the understanding that the Academy would be built to the benefit of both public safety agencies and the residents of Ventura County.”
Prior to the 2002 election, then-Sheriff Bob Brooks was contacted by VCCCD “to rally public support for better facilities than afforded by the existing academy. The Sheriff’s support for the passage of Measure S made the building of the Academy the flagship of the bond. VCCCD agreed to build a state-of-the-art facility at the Camarillo Airport with proceeds from the Bond and to partner with the Sheriff for education and training. The Sheriff recorded promotions for the passage of the Bond with the promise of a joint criminal justice academic program with training for students at the Academy.”
Brooks’ radio advertisements - written by the district - mirrored the language used on ballots describing the bond measure: “By law,” reads the ballot, “all funds must be spent on bond projects specified.”