In two weeks, the supes will adopt a budget of about $240 million for the 2015-16 fiscal year, complete with a reserve of $12 million. For a population of 90,000 people we get a lot of government for the money, roughly $2,700 per resident, $3,500 per if you exclude the kids.
During the relatively perfunctory rubberstamping of CEO Carmel Angelo’s County budget, County Auditor Lloyd Weir provided what at first appeared to be a chart of sales tax revenues over the last few years. That chart was followed by a similar chart of the Transient Occupancy Tax revenues over the same period. Funny: they looked very similar, not only in amount but in shape. So we superimposed one over the other and found that they are nearly identical.
This isn't surprising — bed tax revenues would be expected to track closely with overall retail sales.
The point? The County throws about a mil a year mostly in bed tax revenues and Business Improvement District matching funds to Visit Mendocino County on the theory that Mendo will draw more tourism if the paid staffers of Visit Mendo go to lots of wine and tour conferences. But by their own charts, Visit Mendo's jaunts have no discernible effect on drawing visitors to Mendocino County. Bed tax revenues simply reflect economic activity as they always have and always will.
Oh well — why should Visit Mendocino County be singled out as a waste of money? There’s no evidence that the millions the County pays Ortner Management Group to “manage” mental health services provides much in the way of mental health services. (According to Supervisor Dan Gjerde Ortner charges almost $900k more than Redwood Quality Management for the same kind of admin, not to mention Ortner’s overcharging for “case management.”
In fact nobody in Mendo’s burgeoning soft social service agencies is asked to provide any proof that their “services” produce tangible results in anything resembling proportion to expenditures. Nobody’s even required to report regularly on it. As long as you can deliver enough necessary government code citations, buzzwords and clichés to get your numbers included in CEO Angelo’s budget recommendation, you’re good. The Supes will not only approve whatever Ms. Angelo gives them, they’ll fall over each other congratulating themselves for it.
Supervisor Dan Hamburg, acting as if the coincidental appearance of County Agricultural Commissioner Chuck Morse at Tuesday’s budget hearing was the only time Hamburg has spoken to Mr. Morse this year, engaged in this purely opportunistic exchange with Mr. Morse last Tuesday:
Hamburg: “I would like to address this first to County Counsel. Mr. Losak, because of our current situation with litigation with respect to the frost fans and nuisance, should we not bring that up in this kind of a session? Or is it okay? Because you know, I know we're not going to get into the — anything that has to do with the lawsuit, but I did want to mention that I noticed that there was no mention of it in the, you know, in this presentation or in the text that we were given and it just seems to me that maybe something should be mentioned about it.”
Losak: “In general terms I don't see a problem with it as far as requesting regulation or anything like that.”
Hamburg: “I get your point. My comment is that I really appreciate the work that you've done, Chuck [Morse, Agriculture Commissioner] and in particular with the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association and the farmers and the public and you have played a really important role and I was, you know, I was, I thought that perhaps under the goals and objectives one goal and objective might be just to continue to work with the Winegrowers Association in the county and work toward being at peace and also to where feasible to work toward conversions to upgraded frost machines. Just a comment.”
Morse: “Well said. I focus basically on the department’s programs if you will. But yes, as you well understand, that's one of the many things that I as the Commissioner and, you know, work on, and am working on, so…”
Morse: “It is a goal of mine to proceed after it, so….” (Laughs.)
Hamburg: “It is something you are working on and I appreciate it.”
Morse: “Thank you.”
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Hamburg knows that the frost fan subject has nothing to do with the County's budget. He knows the County has not done, is not doing, and will not ever do anything. He's grandstanding on this just like he does occasionally when the Sheriff appears in the Supervisors Chambers: asking an irrelevant off-topic question to feign shallow interest in a matter of public concern for quite transparent political reasons.
The only "work" that Commissioner Morse has done regarding frost fans that we are aware of is a lengthy discourse he penned on the need for frost protection by grape growers in response to the interrogatories which were part of the lawsuit plaintiff Mark Scaramella filed last year.
A couple of excerpts:
Special Interrogatory #7: "Describe any information the County provides to vineyard operators with respect to their use and operation of Wind Machines."
Response: "The County's Agricultural Commissioner does not provide any information to vineyard operators with respect to their use and operation of wind machines."
Special Interrogatory #10: "Describe any circumstances in which the County has applied its Exterior Noise Limit Standard in a manner to enforce those standards with respect to any agricultural activity as defined in the county's right to farm law."
Response: "Mendocino County Agriculture Commissioner Chuck Morse is not involved in enforcing the Exterior Noise Limit Standard. However, it is my belief that upon receipt of a nuisance complaint or complaints, the Planning and Building Services Department, Code Enforcement researched the nature of the complaints and realize that wind machines used for frost protection are a conventional cultural [sic] practice in production agriculture and as such are exempted by County Code Section 10A.13.010 to .060 inclusive from nuisance noise complaints. I believe this exception had the effect of dismissing the nuisance complaints and I believe this information was forwarded to the complainants."
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None of the "complainants" received anything of the sort except for one grudging non-response that one "complainant" received — after he filed his lawsuit.
Telling the "public" and the winegrowers that they can do anything they want under the umbrella of "right to farm" is not "work," nor are knowing little winks and nods and giggles among officials at budget time.
PS. Two local grape growing neighbors of Scaramella, Sarah Bennett and her parents, Ted Bennett and Debra Kahn, owners of Pennyroyal Farms; and Bill Charles at Foursight Vineyards, have recently "converted" their fans from the very noisy two-bladed version to less noisy three bladed machines. Those conversions were part of a settlement agreement between complainant Mark Scaramella and his neighbors which has not yet been completed — a third (non-local) owner of a neighboring vineyard is still holding out. If credit is due to anyone for these "upgrades" (which will also clearly benefit the local vineyard owners as much as anyone else by being quieter for them) it is the vineyard owners who agreed to do it and Scaramella for giving them a a legal shove in the right direction. Mr. Morris and Supervisor Hamburg had nothing to do with any upgrades or conversions as Supervisor Hamburg surely is quite aware. To our knowledge, none of the other owners of the giant post-and-pad two-bladed wind machines in Anderson Valley have any plans to upgrade, nor has anyone at the County suggested that they do so.
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Third District Supervisor Tom Woodhouse made himself relatively clear last Tuesday that he was no longer even mildly skeptical about the County’s mental health department and its two private service providers. Woodhouse’s announcement seemed to have been precipitated by nothing more than the Mental Health budget deficit wasn’t as bad as previously thought.
Assistant County CEO Alan ‘The Kid’ Flora staggered through a lengthy explanation, which we will spare you here: “The Executive Office has contracted with an outside auditor..... there was a potential for roughly $4 million deficit in mental-health related to a number of audit findings. That was really the worst case scenario." Etc. and so endlessly on, but the Mental Health deficit, is now estimated to be about half the previously estimated $4mil.
Supervisor Dan Gjerde: “This is definitely good news for the county's finances. What is the time period for this audit? It only goes forward to a certain fiscal year. So there will be future audits of later fiscal years which mental health was managed by the county?”
Health and Human Services Director Stacey Cryer: “The $2 million he's referring to is from the audit exception in 06-07. We also have an amount from 2002. It has not been reimbursed. A very small amount. Since the county did not spend general fund dollars for these audit exceptions it will come back directly to the agency [not to the General Fund].” Cryer added that There could be more audit exceptions from the fiscal years of 2010, 11, 12, and perhaps later."
Supervisor Woodhouse was absolutely thrilled with the semi-bad news which is still unconfirmed. “This is like hearing a new song that you think you really really like a lot. It's fun. I appreciate all the work you have put in. I'm very proud of all of you and I am going to push the reset button on myself to break the history and the complaining and the stuff from before and the stories that people have fallen between the cracks. There's always going to be that negative. But I am definitely going to partner with you. My comments to you I'm going to do publicly and with specific questions and look for specific answers from you and I think that approaching anything like this with openness and working as a team— there's really no way it can be stopped. I'm tremendously relieved and I will have to find something new to worry about now. Thank you very much for all your work. I am very impressed.”
Woodhouse might consider pushing his own reset button in the general direction of clarity.
Close observers of the County budget process may recall from Supervisor Dan Hamburg’s appearance in Anderson Valley last spring that Hamburg used the excuse of the now-much reduced $4 million mental health budget deficit as one of the main reasons the County couldn’t pay patrol deputies a competitive wage. Now it turns out that 1. That $4 million hadn’t come out of the General Fund (which funds the Sheriff’s Department), and 2. The deficit isn’t going to be anywhere near that big. So, is there any chance that Hamburg or any other Supervisor or the CEO will revisit patrol deputy pay (which even with the recent contract agreement between the Deputies and the County is still not even back to pre-2009 levels)?
Ms. Cryer also announced that she plans to hire a new Mental Health Director to replace former Ortner Management Group exec Tom Pinizzotto. Pinizzotto will assume the title of Assistant Health and Human Services Director — one among several other assistants. What this means to the actual Mental Health department and its subcontractors is unknown. None of these people are supervised or evaluated.
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District Attorney David Eyster told the Board at last Tuesday’s Budget hearing that Proposition 47, which allows people convicted of certain less serious drug felonies to have their charges reduced to misdemeanors, has had among its consequences an increase in the number of frequent flyers that the cops have to deal with.
Eyster: “Throughout the year I have sent the supervisors a kind of breakdown of the filing rate — how fast criminal reports are coming into the District Attorney's Office. Last year we were setting records on the numbers coming in and having to review. That doesn't mean that all those that come in get filed, but it certainly means that it is work that has to be considered and reviewed. It's also an indicator of what is happening out on the street as far as law enforcement on patrol, the investigators, and the like.
"Realignment [shifting state prisoners to County jails] has continued to be a challenge for us. Not so far as implementation but as far as what it has done. We are doing some statistical analysis now. We had some funding given to us by the CCP [Community Corrections Partnership, the state agency put in charge of prison realignment] and we are early in that proceeding..... According to the last run we are looking at the Proposition 47 where we started. We have done probably about 210 Proposition 47 petitions. Those are petitions or folks who have asked that felonies be reduced down to misdemeanors because of the change in the law. It was very difficult at first because we had a big tidal wave of petitions coming in. It has slowed down now.
"One of the things i was doing this morning was, I was in Prop 47 court and we had three petitions we had to deal with. People [coming to that court] would say, ‘I'd rather take my hit now and not participate in drug rehab through the drug court. We'll just see how it goes.’ Well, it doesn't go well. We have some folks coming back and back and back. That is not anything new. It has just kind of expanded.
"Up in the third district we have folks who are charged with 647F, drunk in public. The Willits Police Department is bringing folks down maybe every three days that just can't stay away from the bottle. They get in the jail. They get out. They get back in jail again and we have to keep amending our complaints because we can't get them into court for arraignment before they re-offend again.
"Supervisor Woodhouse knows and I know that the Willits Police Department is working hard, as is the Sheriff. But it's one of these things that's kind of a cultural issue that we have had for years and we have just not been able to deal with it. We have the drunks in public. We have the folks that I call 11550, using or being under the influence of controlled substances. A lot of repeat flyers. Proposition 47 in that regard did not help us very much, in fact it's made it more difficult.”