Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ventura County taxpayers paying twice for sheriff's academy, grand jury says

By Jean Cowden Moore - Ventura County Star

Taxpayers are being charged twice for a sheriff's academy paid for with community college bond funds, the Ventura County Grand Jury said Friday.

Voters agreed to pay for the academy when they approved Measure S in 2002. That measure provided funding for the Ventura County Community College District to build the sheriff's academy and a fire academy next door, as well as other buildings on its three campuses.

Now, taxpayers are paying for the sheriff's academy again because the Ventura County Sheriff's Office is leasing the building from the district for $124,488 a year, the grand jury says in its report.

The reason, according to the grand jury, is that the sheriff's office and college district couldn't 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. The office also agreed to provide instructors and furniture.

"The sheriff wanted it staffed the way it had traditionally been staffed — with deputies," said David Gale, foreman of the grand jury. "Because they couldn't agree, it seems the taxpayers are paying for it, and that doesn't seem right."

But Sheriff Geoff Dean said the two agencies had settled the instruction issue. The college district's decision was financial, he said.

"I would like to see a reversal of the fees we're now paying," Dean said.

In a letter responding to the report Thursday, James Meznek, chancellor of the district, challenged some of the grand jury's findings, saying that the lease did not have to be approved by voters.

In its report, the grand jury also recommends the district and sheriff's office revert to their original agreement, so the sheriff pays only $1 a year in rent. The fire academy next door uses college instructors and pays little or no rent, Gale said.

"It would be nice if they could get together and approve a curriculum and not double charge the citizens of Ventura County," he said.

The two agencies now have 90 days to respond to the grand jury report.

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