Santa Barbara County’s main jail is overcrowded and strained to the breaking point, but a recent multimillion-dollar windfall has presented the board of supervisors with an opportunity to relieve some of the pressure.

At the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, board members announced that the county had received an $8.4-million refund from the state of California, compensating Santa Barbara for funds borrowed from county coffers. County Chief Executive Officer Mike Brown said a portion of the funds will be used to finance the construction of a new jail facility for the northern part of the county, plans which have been in the works since the late 1990s, when a grand jury report indicated the need for such an expansion. Brown said the newly added funds could enable the county to complete the project within the next four years.

The supervisors have always recognized the need for a jail facility in the northern part of the county, Brown said, but the plan was never seriously pursued because the county lacked the money to fund a major construction project. He said construction on the new facility, which would house people arrested by the I.V. Foot Patrol, as well as other inmates in northern Santa Barbara County, will begin once the supervisors officially vote to finance it.

“There was a run at it six years ago, but this is the first time the issue has been pursued,” Brown said.

The money to fund the project will come from recent revenue the county received from the state as a reimbursement for funds the county lost when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger abolished the car tax, which was a mandatory fee for vehicle licensing, Brown said.

“Three years ago, Gov. Schwarzenegger promised to abolish the car tax, which he did immediately after taking office, Brown said. “To offset the cost, he borrowed money from different counties. This created a shortfall in county budgets. The $8.4 million is intended to reimburse our county for the money borrowed for the abolition of the car tax.”

Brown said an injunction issued by the Santa Barbara Superior Court, along with its 1998 Grand Jury Interim Final Report on Detention Facilities ruled that the county’s existing jail complex is not adequate. At certain times, Brown said, the building’s holding facilities become crowded and arrestees are forced into unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

“The existing jail is very overcrowded, with people sleeping on the floor, and the court has issued an injunction for the situation to be remedied,” Brown said.

The northern part of Santa Barbara County has no long-term jail, Brown said, requiring the county to spend money on the transportation of arrestees from the location of their trials in North County to the jail in the southern part of the county.

“There is no jail in North County, where the population is growing faster than anywhere else in the county,” Brown said. “The result is that we end up with all of the people arrested in the North County being bused down here and back up to North County for their trials.”

Three separate committees from the Sheriff’s Dept. and the county are currently investigating the cost of the project and its potential impact on I.V., Goleta and Santa Maria, Brown said.

“The sheriff and his team are doing work on developing a conceptual design and checking out the architectural side of things,” Brown said. “A parallel team is looking at the feasibility of acquiring land outside of Santa Maria for the new jail site. A final overall team is looking at the costs and assessing all the risks, and that team will present its final findings on Dec. 13.” Brown said.