County Notes (Jan. 17, 2018)

ACCORDING TO A LETTER being circulated to special districts in Mendocino County by County Auditor Lloyd Weer, the overall estimated property value loss associated with last fall’s devastating Redwood Complex fire is $38 million for this fiscal year (17-18), and $51 million for next fiscal year (18-19). That translates to a general fund revenue reduction of $380k this year and another $510k next year for a total of almost $900k revenue reduction for the two years after the fires. It’s not clear why the increase in estimated loss in the second year, but it could be that they expect more requests for assessed value reductions from fire victims over those they have so far.

THIS IS THE FIRST TIME we’ve seen the estimated value of the devastating fire loss, but we’re surprised none of the Supervisors have brought it up yet, especially in light of their having given themselves well north of $125k total for their five giant raises without at least asking about the budgetary impact. (Purely for the sake of appearances, of course. They were taking the raises even if the whole county burned down.)

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A UKIAH resident who’s been close to the dispute between the Ukiah Valley Sanitation District and the City of Ukiah over how much the City owes the San District for years of Ukiah shortchanging the district via ratepayer payments, says that there could have been some insider manipulation of the recent Sanitation District Board election by the City to get three new people elected who wanted to settle the dispute because the City is having trouble borrowing money with such a huge pending lawsuit hanging over its head. [Sorry for the length of that sentence. – ms] We still don’t know the terms of the City’s recent settlement proposal, but we agree that the City probably owes the District a lot of back payments, although the District’s initial demand seems inflated (not to mention lawyer costs in the hundreds of thousands). We may know if the newly elected members of the Sanitation District Board are truly Ukiah friendly when we see the terms of the settlement agreement. Trouble is, so far nobody’s seen the terms of Ukiah’s proposal, and we won’t know the final agreement, if there is one, until after it’s a done deal. Like road construction and computer infrastructure cost estimates, sewer system costs are nearly impossible to critique from the outside so whatever numbers are thrown around will be hard to verify, at best. For similar reasons, it will be very hard to determine who got the better deal if a settlement is reached. We can only hope that the new San District board members keep in mind that they are supposed to represent the District’s ratepayers, not the City of Ukiah.

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DEBRIS REMOVAL WORK that had been suspended in the middle of last week in the wake of a contract dispute filed by an Army Corps of Engineers contractor from Florida was resumed on Friday after California state Emergency Services officials stepped in to fill the contract gap. In an impressively creative move not typical of state agencies, California’s Office of Emergency Services authorized a new agreement Friday with the Burlingame-based company ECC to advance the debris removal program in the affected counties without delay. As we suggested last week when the suspension was announced, the award was made under the broad emergency/disaster declaration for the four counties, Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino. With the resumption of work, the removal effort is now expected to be finished in late February or early March. State officials stepped in on the presumption that the feds will eventually reimburse them after the contract dispute is resolved. No details about the basis for the dispute have been made available so far.

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Thomsen

KIRK THOMSEN has been unceremoniously put on administrative leave from his job as Interim Ukiah Valley Fire Chief following an abrupt dismissal involving the formal taking of the keys to the firehouse a few days ago. Sources in the local fire service tell us that an investigation is underway into unspecified allegations and for the time being two subordinates, a division chief named Kevin Jennings and a fire inspector in the Ukiah Fire Department have assumed the Chief’s duties pending the outcome of the investigation. Informally, Ukiah area firefighters say that Thomsen has been a pretty good chief and were surprised by the developments. The circumstances of Thomsen’s dismissal by Ukiah City Manager Sage Sangiacomo have spurred some speculation in Ukiah area firefighting circles that there may be allegations of sexual harassment, but that is pure speculation at this point. No announcement has been made by City officials and all the officials involved are keeping conspicuously quiet about the sitation, so there’s no timeline and no further information.

Sangiacomo

THE REORGANIZATION of the newly formed “Ukiah Valley Fire Authority” which merged the Ukiah City Fire Department with the Ukiah Valley Fire District under the authority of the City Manager last year was met with optimism early on when Sangiacomo told Ukiah Daily Journal reporter Justine Frederiksen, “There is significant work we need to do that we cannot lose ground on with the merged operations, and this interim chief [Thomsen] is very capable of being able to provide those services to the city, and has the full faith of the Ukiah Valley Fire District board as well.” Sangiacomo appointed Thomsen, formerly a Division Chief for both the City of Ukiah Fire Department and the UVFA, to serve as interim fire chief after the fire district board recommended him for the position. Why after all these months Thomsen was still considered “interim” was not explained. Thomsen was appointed after former CDF fire captain John Bartlett abruptly resigned at the end of 2016. Bartlett was the originator and driving force behind the consolidation of the City’s fire department with the Ukiah Valley District fire service. Thomsen himself was enthusiastic about the merger and was expected to pick up the ball. At the time of the merger the Ukiah Valley District was facing financial shortfalls that both organizations hoped would be mitigated by the merger and consolidation of some overhead functions. But it has been a work in progress, especially as Sangiacomo’s city staff took over the finances of the newly merged “authority.” If the problem with Thomsen that lead to his being put on admin leave had been an ordinary dispute over policy or expenditures or staffing there probably would be no need for an “investigation.” And it is that unspecified “investigation” status that is fueling speculation among the rather close-knit firefighting “community” in Ukiah.

LEE HOWARD isn't the only person in the greater Ukiah Valley wondering, "We are missing the Fire Chief; it has been about four weeks with no Chief and it is showing in many ways — total disregard for Department SOP, poor judgement at fire scenes and the general business of the Department. It is imperative that a qualified Chief be put in place immediately. Is this the City taking care of the District's citizens? It appears to me as you are doing a damn poor job."

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