According to a recent Press Democrat report, Sonoma County is considering cutting staff by up to 136 employees to balance next year’s budget. As is typical of the PD's cryptic reports on Sonoma County affairs, it’s not clear how many of the 136 cuts are actual employees and how many are funded but vacant positions that were in the process of being filled.
The PD also said that Sonoma County currently has 358 vacancies and is attempting to fill only 143 of them. The “tentative” reduction may not materialize, however, because “the county’s revenue picture could improve by June” because, according to SoCo’s CEO, “Nearly half of the $12 million shortfall is due to $5.9 million in property tax revenue the county hopes will ultimately be added to the state budget.”
This was money that the state, supposedly “had previously granted to Sonoma County to make up for property tax losses related to destruction from the 2017 wildfires. The other half of the shortfall is reportedly due to inflation and the prospect of pay raises for county employees who are now in contract negotiations.”
The point for Mendo? Mendo hasn’t begun to look at next year’s “tentative budget” beyond noting that as of the end of last December ten departments were significantly over budget with no discussion of why or what, if anything, should be done about it.
And Mendo's sales tax revenues as of the end-of-December were half of what they should have been for that point in the fiscal year. And the pot program is about $2.5 million in the red. And Juvenile Hall is still way more expensive than comparable delinquent holding pens in neighboring counties. And the mid-year budget report didn’t even mention whether the state will compensate Mendo for property tax loss as a result of the 2017 Redwood Complex fires. And the Board is planning to spend millions of dollars on capital improvements like a huge new software system and new roofs. And the Board still hasn’t received their long-overdue salary survey for line employees which will surely say that employees should get a raise which, if history is any guide, will be upwards of 10% over three years, plus possible bonuses.
Mendo presently has almost 300 “funded” but vacant positions, some of which are in the very slow process of being filled (many of those are not general fund positions), but not one word has been said about what impact such vacancies have on work or workloads for existing employees. (Official Mendo never mentions workloads, backlogs, stress, productivity, etc. So many positions are vacant yet no one seems concerned about the vacancies. It’s as if whatever “work” Mendo does, especially in the softer office jobs, has nothing to do with authorized staffing levels.)
On the other hand, the unfilled vacancies may offset some of the red ink. And Mendo might realize some grudging unbudgeted, unestimated revenues from the “minimum” tax they’re demanding from their few licensed pot growers who must pay a minimum tax even if they didn't grow or sell pot.
So here’s Sonoma County addressing serious budget shortfalls in next year’s budget yet Mendo is only two months from next fiscal year and Mendo’s crack team of well-paid Supervisors and department heads and CEO staffers hasn’t even begun to address these and many other obvious problems in next year’s budget and their most recent data was already three months old when they looked at it last month.
CEO Carmel Angelo told the Supervisors on Tuesday that the Board is asking too much of her and her staff. “It is our job to find out what this board wants and what your policy direction is. I am concerned about the Planning department because we know that we just transferred the cannabis program over there. We want that cannabis program to be successful and at this point it is their number one priority, upgrading that program, finding out what the glitches are and moving that program forward so we can get more permits out and we can really have a successful program. But the staff is not going to be able to do all of the priorities if every time they turn around there is another request from a board member for something to be done. I just want to be real clear. It's not about not wanting to do your directions, and it's not about not wanting to do the individual requests that each board member has. It's about how they stay on task getting the job done. That said, if there is a way, um— we had the IT [information technology] ad hoc [committee] with Supervisor Williams and Supervisor Gjerde. I would request that we look at that, that the ad hoc discuss this and we see how we can work to better have planning online without negatively impacting the staff. Thank you.”
So to recap: After almost three years the County has assigned the pot permit program to the Planning Department and their number one priority is to “find out what the [unidentified, unspecified] glitches are” which, if fixed, maybe, someday, they can get more permits issued.
Also, apparently every time a put-upon staffer turns around they are bombarded with “another request from a board member for something to be done.” And somehow this causes the poor staffers to go into triage mode because they can’t do it all (“it” also unspecified) and they can’t stay on task.
And then, they don’t like being asked to try to get the planning and permit process automated and on-line, so they want Supervisor Williams to take that on himself since he’s the software guy and he seems to be the only person in the County who wants to automate the permit application process. But if Supervisor Williams doesn’t do it staff won’t be able to get back on task unless the board stops asking them to do stuff.
Most of the administrators we see bumbling through presentations to the Board are lucky to be employed at the pay they're pulling down. We watch these rambling proceedings every two weeks and marvel at the imprecision, the inability to answer the most basic question. We also note here that the Supervisors seldom ask staff to do anything, but Supervisors, especially Williams who the whining is obviously aimed at, do ask questions whose answers should be readily at hand. Repeat: Angelo and Company finally have a Supervisor who is fully on task, they are seldom on task, and it's making them uncomfortable.
Some of Mendo’s Public Records Act requests are about to get a lot more expensive. According to last Tuesday’s CEO Report: “The Executive Office and County Counsel will also be bringing an item to the Board regarding a possible ordinance to address fees under the Public Records Act. Currently, those fees only capture direct costs of duplication and not staff time or other expenses incurred in responding. The Public Records Act requests involving large amounts of staff time, where we provide an electronic response with no cost recovery, are increasing. We will be asking the Board to consider an ordinance to increase fees to cover the expense of providing these materials.” The key words being “staff time” which the County will be able to determine both the hours and rates and overheads and timing of without fear of contradiction.