Dear Board of Supervisors:
You at least seem to realize that asking us for money for yourselves probably won’t go over too well. It’s politically more expedient to ask for money for local fire departments. It’s worked before, hasn’t it?
You told us when we voted for Measure V that something would be done about the nuisance the Mendocino Redwood Company created by leaving standing, chemically destroyed dead trees on their thousands of acres of forestland. Now, even with a strong County Counsel opinion in your pocket saying MRC is wrong, all we get is Supervisor Haschak, hat in hand, talking to MRC about it, hoping MRC will change their long-standing position that there’s no money in poisoned dead standing tanoaks.
You told us when we voted for Measure B that we would get a PHF, and that the chronic mental patients we see on the streets every day would finally get some help. But now, all the Measure B money is going to consultants, planners, training, and “crisis residential” and “crisis stabilization” so there won’t be much left for a costly PHF.
You told us in 2016 when we voted for Measures AH and AI that the County would “use the majority of [cannabis program] revenue generated by Measure AI's [cannabis] business tax to fund enforcement of marijuana regulations, mental health services, county road repair, and fire and medical emergency services.” All we got was county employees riding around in new white SUVs and a a lot of pot-related red-ink.
When Prop 172 was approved in the 90s for “public safety” some of it was supposed to go to fire departments — but NOT in Mendo. Local fire departments had to organize and go to the Grand Jury and make a stink before Official Mendo finally, grudgingly, agreed to allocate a token amount to local fire departments. You now say it isn’t enough. Why not give them more?
You told us back in the 1990s when the Bed Tax was on the ballot that the money would go into the general fund to cover services related to tourism. But within a year a big chunk of it was handed over to the tourism industry’s “promotional alliance” and none of it went to fire departments. (Remember when the Grand Jury asked for the Promotional Alliance’s books and they refused saying they were a “private business” which just happened to get 98% of its funding from the County?) And now you say that you can’t re-allocate anymore bed tax money to fire fighting even though fire departments (and the inland ambulance sytsem) need the money now more than ever.
If the fire departments need the money so badly, why hasn’t the County allocated some of the EXISTING Bed Tax — well over $6 million now — which goes into the general fund and is available for fire departments if allocated to them?
With all that, you want us to vote for a campgrounds bed tax add-on that will also go into the general fund but with an “advisory measure” in which you promise (again) that you and your overpaid management team will allocate the $1 million or more to County fire departments, after having given yourselves and them very unpopular big raises without even a grand jury or citizen committee review?
In fact, the Supervisors have a long history of denying or reducing local fire service funding while citing their newfound interest in funding fire services via a campground bed tax proposal?
The Board has claimed that they did their part years ago by funding Calfire’s emergency dispatch services. But that, of course, didn’t provide any money for local fire services.
Our point in the earlier commentary was, not about the merits of what they have or have not done, or of the latest tax measures, but about the Board’s utter failure to properly manage the General fund budget in light of this latest proposed tax measure which purports to tax visitors for fire services.
The new fire service funding measure(s) (Measures D and E) are designed to avoid the tougher two-thirds majority requirement for a dedicated (to fire services) sales tax increment by presenting it as unearmarked general fund revenue, which only requires a 50% plus 1 vote; then adding an accompanying “advisory measure” which would “advise” the Board to spend the new revenue on fire services which is intended to sweeten the tax pill a bit.
But the Supes are not required to dedicate the new money to fire services.
For years, local fire departments argued that they should get a fair share of the Prop 172 revenues. They finally got some a couple years ago after a long, drawn out, confusing and frustrating series of lobbying which, if the Supes really wanted to fund fire services, would have generated an immediate re-allocation of the money. In the end some of the Prop 172 money was grudgingly allocated to the Fire Departments, but was it the right amount? No. Obviously not, or we wouldn’t be looking at Measures D and E. Anderson Valley got about $20k which doesn’t even cover half their insurance bill.
In addition, the fire departments are still left wondering if these minimal Prop 172 allocations are reliable; each year there’s some question about whether the Board will re-allocate the money and what allocation formula will be used. Will they continue the 172 allocations if Measures D and E pass? They don’t have to, and there’s nothing in the “advisory” measure about not reducing other funds, which would water down the value of the D&E money that goes into the General Fund.
Moreover, the fire departments have never received a nickel of the existing Bed Tax revenues, even though, as the promoters of D and E correctly note, tourists represent a significant demand on emergency services. Now, instead of offering the fire services some of the annual millions in Bed Tax money, the Supes want to ding the campgrounds and generously allow voters to “advise” them to spend it on fire services.
But does the County/Board properly manage and allocate the general fund revenues, approximately half of which go directly to the Sheriff’s department which, amazingly, hasn’t had a budget problem for the last few years? (Former Sheriff Tom Allman and current Sheriff Matt Kendall are on record heaping praise on CEO Carmel Angelo for, in essence, giving the Sheriff whatever funding he wants. Nevermind that the funding is secretly made available by maintaining high vacancy rates in other general fund departments without any analysis of the impact of those vacancy rates on the functioning of those departments.)
How good is the Board at overseeing County spending and staffing and budgets?
Back in September when the subject of monthly budget tracking arose, albeit as an afterthough, during the discussion of Supervisor Ted Williams’ agenda item about “zero based budgeting, Supervisor John McCowen reminded CEO Angelo, again, about the Board’s continuing request for monthly budget tracking.
CEO Angelo agreed that the Board had been asking for monthly reports but offered up a series of lame excuses for either delaying or ignoring the Board’s requests: More training was required (which has been going on for over two years); quarterly reports are enough (they’re not; and they’re not real budget status reports); exactness is hard (exactness wasn’t requested); software needs to be updated; year-end closeout must be done first (incorrect), the budget’s too big, etc.
The Board finally voted unanimously to: “Create an agenda item for November 5 regarding zero-based budgeting, putting public priorities on the county budget; host a workshop at the second meeting in January regarding zero-based budgeting; have the IT ad hoc work with the executive office on budget tracking and department metrics; have each supervisor work in conjunction with the executive office for district meetings on budget priorities, including priorities for the county budget.”
We’re now into February and the Board’s directive to “Create an agenda item for November 5 regarding zero-based budgeting, putting public priorities on the county budget” is a distant memory and it never happened. Nobody cared, nobody followed up, nobody asked any questions. Which tells you how much the Board and the CEO care about budget oversight and follow-up.
January has come and gone too, and there was no “workshop at the second meeting in January regarding zero-based budgeting” or anything else.
As far as we know the IT ad hoc didn’t even meet, much less “work with the executive office on budget tracking and department metrics.”
And if “each supervisor [has] worked in conjunction with the executive office for district meetings on budget priorities, including priorities for the county budget,” it has been without any visible result.
So again, we ask: if this Board and CEO won’t manage their own budgets and continues to blithely put it further and further off, won’t follow-up on budget review directives, won’t follow-up on previous funding allocations or ask if they’re enough, and won’t allocate any more money to fire services until maybe next year — if then; the money won’t start rolling in until June of 2021 and won’t be available for fire services until it goes through a budgeting process that will take more months and that is, ahem, flawed — if the voters approve, why are we supposed to believe that this latest "advisory measure" will change anything?