Great Moments In Public Deliberation
Supervisor John Haschak was made Chair of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. During a discussion of whether to ask County Counsel to reply to the Measure B Committee’s questions about use of public funds for mental health services in a privately owned facility, it didn’t take long for Haschak to run slightly afoul of Supervisor McCowen who considers himself to be an expert in such procedural things.
McCowen: Mr. Chair [Haschak].
Haschak: I think we need to take public comment.
McCowen: I think it's probably more appropriate if we can convert this [directive] into a motion which we do have a recommended motion and the directive to also look at the questions from Willits [about whether the County has to comply with Willits city code should they do any Measure B funded construction at the Old Howard Hospital in Willits] would be incorporated in the motion so it's all very clear what the direction has been so with that I would move the recommended mo—
Haschak: [Interrupting] Well, let's hold off on that. Let's go to public comment. and then we'll come back for the —
McCowen: There is no —
McCowen: —requirement for the public —
Haschak: Are there any public comments? [Silence…] Seeing none, we will go to you Supervisor McCowen:.
McCowen: Maybe we could clarify with County Counsel is there a requirement to take public comment prior to a motion or is it sufficient if you have public comment either prior to or after a motion?
County Counsel Christian Curtis: Is --? Is --? Well, is that question being posed by the chair?
Haschak: No it's not! Because on my list it says that we invite public comment and then we invite a motion or action.
McCowen: We should revise our rules of procedure to clarify that.
Haschak: Well, we can do that later.
McCowen: Thank you.
From Supervisor Ted Williams’ Supervisor Report last Tuesday:
Williams: “In reviewing some chronologies of clients while sitting on the board of West Company last year it became apparent that [Mendo’s] business licensing process is an impediment for new businesses, especially small businesses. Lake County does not require business licenses in instances where we do. For body piercing or selling Christmas trees or food handling they do. They have pinpointed specific business cases where there may be protection to the public by having a business license process. But say hypothetically that Supervisor at McCowen in his retirement decides to write his memoirs. He does it from a coffee shop or sitting in the audience here in the board chambers. Maybe he edits a little bit at home. He has to get a business license because he's not an outlaw, he wants to be compliant. He pays $40, not a problem, that's not a business impediment. But he also pays $339 to planning and building. Why planning and building? They want to check that his office is in compliance. He says I don't have an office, I write in coffee shops and wherever I am and I bring a notepad. No, we are going to use his primary residence as his business location because he doesn't need office space. They are going to review to see if he has any code violations in his home even though he is not bringing the public in and he has no employees. This process can take weeks, sometimes months, sometimes many months. Mendocino County says that 82% of the businesses are small businesses and we have a business friendly climate. Lake County has that business friendly climate, where if you live in Lake County and you want to write a book, you don't need a business license. You are a watercolor artist and you want to sell your artwork, you don't need a business license. They presume these types of businesses are operating legally. Whereas it appears we have gone overboard and are actually harming the incubation of new small businesses in our county. I think we do need some business licenses, but I think we can model our approach after Lake County. Their program seems to be successful. They have found a balance between protecting the public and encouraging business development. So I would like staff to look at Lake County as a model and determine what types of businesses need to be licensed in our county to protect the public.”
After some discussion the board agreed to have staff review the business license program and come back to the board in a few weeks with some recommendations.
Williams then addreessed the County’s ambulance shortage problem.
“I have been tracking the ambulance situation and I think it has deteriorated. It's not a matter of coming up with creative solutions at this point. You can't blame any of the parties. Coastal Valley EMS does not have the job of coming up with ambulance service or coming up with the funding. The city of Ukiah was key in discarding the Exclusive Operating Area (EOA) and I guess I thank them for that because we could have been putting effort into a direction that wasn't taking us anywhere. But it has left us in a position where private ambulance companies don't want to do business in this county because there isn't money on the table. They tell us that as many as two out of three of the calls are not profitable. It's no wonder they didn't participate in the EOA. They are dow- staffing ambulances. A funding source is missing. The county needs to commit funds which the county has done in past decades or we need to tell the public that we are not taking on this task and so you choose to live in a rural area where you may not get an ambulance. We are in a precarious situation now where we are not taking a stance and we are not formulating a plan. I know we have an ad hoc committee looking at this. But without funding there is nothing that can be done. This may be national or state policy falling down so the reimbursement rates are simply too low for 911 transport. I have heard about transporting 5150s and other mental health patients not using an ambulance — that's great, it would cut down on the use of the ambulance. But it also cuts down on revenue for the ambulance company. So I don't know if that in and of itself is a solution. It does not address the bottom line that when somebody calls 911 they get to the hospital, and that provider may lose money on the transport.”
Williams also mentioned the financial problems with Labor and Delivery opertions at Coast Hospital.
“The labor and delivery unit at Coast Hospital will likely close. A year ago they were talking about only 100 births and it takes about one a day in my understanding to be financially viable. In the last 12 months they were down to 50. It's about a $2 million loss I am told. We want to have a viable story for new families on the coast and in the Fifth District, but we have a problem with the demographics. We have an aging population and not a lot of people to serve that aging population. Taking away labor and delivery is not an incentive for families to move to our area or stay. I am closely tracking it, I don't have a solution. It's another example where money is the sole problem. The Adventists will likely be assuming operation of that hospital. It will go to the ballot in March. It is not a sure thing. It's not dependent on the voters passing it, it's dependent on the Adventists looking at the financials and deciding whether or not they can dig that hospital out of its current financial hole. It has deteriorated since they first expressed interest to the tune of millions. The last month of financials that I've seen there was a $700-$800,000 loss. If you annualize that it's not sustainable.”
Next up: The Winter Shelter on the Coast with a Hospital angle.
Williams: “The winter shelter was hard to pull off this year. We had a community partner that came through in the end and I appreciate that we had unanimous board support to fund the winter shelter and staff was able to pay much of the $66,000 up front which made a difference to the community partner which did not have liquid assets. I think they were willing to do it but they didn't seem particularly eager. The Hospital District, assuming they won't be running a hospital come March may be willing to take on that effort for the following year. I think we should have the county try to work with the hospital district on maybe a new approach, additional help, an additional partner in the mix. I would like supervisor Gjerde to have a chance to respond to this because the hospital and the shelter are in his district; some of the homeless that are served are in my district and it is a countywide issue. I would like to give weight to his preference because the facilities are in his district.”
Gjerde: “Maybe at the next convenient opportunity the EMS services ad hoc could bring forward some recommendations because part of our role as supervisors is to identify problems, it's also part of our role to identify solutions. It would be helpful if as an ad hoc we could work with stakeholders and bring forward recommended solutions.”
Williams: “Supervisor McCowen and I have not had a chance to align and bring a unified message back. The problem is money. Either it will be a new tax or general fund. If it's a new tax, the only new tax that appears viable is a sales tax. But the cities came back and said they are not in favor of that because they have limited funding channels and we are approaching a sales tax ceiling with other needs. I don't dispute any of that, but if we don't do a sales tax we are looking at general fund. The time to bring this up may be our budgeting process. We need to be careful about spending. I know we have a balanced budget now in theory, but if you add in these new fire department inspections and supporting an ambulance and a new jail wing that may need $1.7 million in staffing and the list goes on… we have some financial woes coming up.”
Board Chair John Haschak: “We can't move forward as a board because it's in the ad hoc so it would be good to bring something forward so we can discuss it as a board. I think we should bring something from the ad hoc, even if it's an agenda item to discuss for possible action.
Williams: “Next meeting.”
Haschak: “We will do it as soon as possible.”