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County Notes (June 30, 2021)

MOST of the dubious consent calendar items we complained about last week were approved by the Supes 5-0 without comment on Tuesday. Supervisor Haschack pulled his anti-hobby-horse, the “expanded” pot permit program item, Item 4ax, for a separate vote, which he duly voted against. 

SUPERVISOR HASCHAK also thought it would be good to have a committee of the public to deal with the ten-year redistricting, but County Counsel said there wasn’t enough time for that given that the census data is already late, so the staff will do it with the usual public meetings and public input. (They might want to consider the two solid options presented by the Redistricting Committee ten years ago, which still clearly deserve reconsideration, but there’s no evidence that this current crop of staffers and supervisors have any idea there even was a redistricting committee in 2010, although the committee conscientiously took months to develop two viable alternative districting proposals. But that committee’s months-long effort — meetings, charts, training, maps, precinct counts, formal proposals and rationales, etc., was quickly tossed aside by then-Supervisor Kendall Smith, who said no changes should be made, and her colleagues quickly agreed. 

SUPERVISOR HASCHAK asked County Counsel what might happen if the two pending pot permit referendums both passed which would prevail? After a lot of hemming and hawing, County Counsel Christian Curtis, a master of circumlocution, said he thought the one with the most votes would prevail. But Curtis also thought that a referendum like the “Small Is Beautiful” proposal in circulation, which would only delete a footnote from the current ordinance might not meet legal muster because it’s too narrow in scope. 

IN HIS report, Supervisor McGourty admitted that even though this year drought is really, really bad — they even passed a drought emergency ordinance later in the day — his “Drought Task Force” has no idea what to do about it, beyond the obvious cutbacks on what water remains. McGourty thought the whole Board should try to deal with the problem instead of just the “task force.” McGourty also thought it would be nice if the Supes got out and about the County to see what the water situation is. (A good place to begin is with Jim Shields of Laytonville's water system. His water district is much like other small water districts in the unincorporated areas of the county.) 

HERE’S A RADICAL IDEA: Since the Supervisors sit as the County Water Agency Board, they could ask each city and water district to submit drought emergency assessments and management plans which the County Agency — the Supervisors — would have to approve or require rework and additional restrictions. Of course, this approach would involve the Supervisors possibly demanding more of the cities and districts than they’re currently doing — a step the Supes are reluctant to take on anything, even an historic drought — but worth a try. 

WHEN THE POT PERMIT subject re-appeared later in the day for discussion of some kind of phased in expansion, Supervisor Ted Williams asked what the water usage is “per serving” of “various crops” including pot and grapes. McGourty predictably ignored the grape question and changed the subject to the EIR requirements. Later Williams again asked staff for some kind of comparison of crops and water usage. McGourty wanted the expansion to be called “cannabis re-set” not “cannabis expansion,” adding that nobody knows how much pot is being grown because so much is illegal. McGourty described the existing pot permit program as “an abysmal failure,” saying they have to “get a handle on it.” Good luck, Supervisor. 

ON THE AFTERNOON AGENDA were the Schraeder’s $17.4 million Mental Health Services contract, a first stab at monthly budget reporting, and the possible phased approach to pot permit expansion. We’ll get to those later — if nobody else does. 

Budget Notes

From The CEO Report for this week: “Budget Report Update Attached to the CEO Report is a table showcasing the Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget through May 2021 for General Fund Accounts. First item of note there are several departments with lower than expected revenue which is causing them to reflect a deficit at this time. It is expected revenues from State funds and grants will reduce those shortfalls. Secondly three departments, partly due to the wage increases over the last two years, have been able to hire and retain staff. There are funds set aside in the miscellaneous budget unit to cover these costs. Third, as the department heads look to close out the fiscal year, contractor and vendor invoices will need to be reconciled, which may reduce the surplus in some departments. The County would expect to be at 88% of budget but is calculating at 91% with the three major points listed above impacting year end projections.” 

According to the groundbreaking Monthly Budget vs. Actual Report by department promised years ago but never delivered until this month in 2021 — we see that the County Counsel’s office is projected to be 143% over budget ($924k budgeted vs. $1.3 million spent for an overrun of almost $400k. The reason offered for the overrun? “Benefits greater than budget.” Aha, right there is a perfect department to consider applying the newly discovered personal responsibility law to. Have the Auditor issue an invoice to County Counsel Christian Curtis demanding that he personally pay the County nearly $400k in budget overruns. Then we’d finally get to see what the legalities are in this particular state government code which says state and local officials should pay out of pocket for budget overruns. In fact, we suspect that the reason for this overrun is not “benefits greater than budget” (how could that be?), but out-of-control outside counsel costs associated with wrongful termination suits and the CEO’s bogus “investigations,” which the Board has been approving on the consent calendar without discussion. If so, County Counsel could simply reply that he’s overrunning because the Board approved outside law firm costs without considering the budget impact, making it the Board’s fault, not his. Bring on the bills! Start holding these people accountable for their budgets! It’s the law!

Sheriff’s Staffing & Budget

According to the latest County vacancy report, the Sheriff has 114 allocated/funded positions, plus 73 at the Jail. Of the 114 positions, 16 are vacant and 10 are “in recruitment.” Of the 73 jail positions, 17 are vacant and 9 are “in recruitment.” The Sheriff’s department reports 7 “new hires” (since July of 2020), 7 separations (firings, resignations, retirement), and 11 employees on leave (typically medical). At the jail there are only 4 new hires against 9 separations and 2 on leave. 

The Sheriff’s Department is listed in the new budget breakdown as being about $620k over his $14.5 million budget (not counting the jail which is running a little under budget). Explanation: “Overtime and extra help greater than budget.” There goes that spendthrift Sheriff wasting money on overtime for murders and emergencies. Make him pay! The jail budget, however, is about $530k under budget. So that leaves Sheriff Kendall personally responsible for only about $90k, this year anyway, according to that draconian state code that the Supes are supposedly ad-hoccing into oblivion. But the CEO and the Supes can nick the Sheriff for lots more next year because, at present, he’s still being told to budget less than he needs for replacement vehicles, overtime, and law enforcement software. (Meanwhile, over at the DA's office, it's fat city, hence the long-running romance between the DA and CEO Angelo.)

* * *

Probation appears to be on track to be way over budget at $2.5 million, $1.1 million over its allotted $1.4 million by the end of June. No explanation is offered. (We do see a lot of “probation revocation” charges in the daily booking log but that should have been budgeted for at the git.) Also, Probation has about twice as many staffers as Juvenile Hall so their budget should have been higher at the beginning of the year. 

Here's a startling stat for you — the Juvenile Hall budget (Part of the Probation Department but with its own budget) at almost $2.3 million is much larger than the Probation Department's $1.4 million budget even though Juvenile Hall only handles a dozen or so delinquents at a time. This entire Probation/Juvenile Hall budget situation clearly needs some attention and explanation. (But let’s not send Probation Chief Izen Locatelli a bill just yet. He seems to be trying hard to spend money carefully, despite being a court employee and being saddled with keeping juvenile hall open for a few aspiring criminals.)

The “Cannabis Management” budget (Is “cannabis management” another oxymoron?) at about $420k is under by a few percent even though it has a note saying “Benefits greater than budget,” which as an brief explanation is starting to sound kinda fishy.

Planning and Building is listed as way under budget, running at less than 40% of budget for this fiscal year. The explanation given is “Salaries less than budget,” meaning they are either having trouble filling funded positions or they’re filling positions with much less expensive staffers. Planning and Building has 51 allocated positions with only 8 of them vacant, so we suspect it’s the latter. It could also be at least in part because of the resignation of top-dollar Planning and Building Chief Brent Schultz a few months ago leaving the department back in the hands of interim P&B Director Nash Gonzales. This needs some clarification.

Nevertheless, the inclusion of a department by department monthly budget vs. actual chart in the CEO report — even if it’s just a first attempt with lots of unanswered questions — is a major milestone in Mendocino County history. Unfortunately, there’s no indication, so far, that the Supervisors have any interest in this valuable new tool. 

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