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Leaks In the Roof; Fingers In the Dike

In the Air Force we used to call formal presentations that left out key pieces of information “incomplete staff work.” It certainly applies to the Powerpoint Presentation coming up at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. The County Administration Building’s leaky roof, and other roofs belonging to the County get their own power pointer.

The presentation, entitled "Mendocino County Roof Report," summarizes the roof repair or replacement options for the County's admin center, the main jail, and the emergency operations center, all of which need major roof work. 

According to the presentation, replacing the east section of the administration roof will cost $2.5 million, of which apparently $1.7 million has been set aside. The equally bad south section of the administration center roof will require another $2 million which is currently unfunded. 

The last time the County went out to bid for the roof repair project for both the East and South sections combined, the bid was over $4.3 million, which the County didn't have, so the roof work was put on hold. 

According to Tuesday's presentation, "the [Admin Center] old roof continues to leak in numerous locations, however active repair and maintenance efforts have reduced the number and intensity of active leaks." (Tarps and buckets? Spot patch sealant?) These two sections cover Planning and Building, and Environmental Health which, we are told, are "important county departments." (At a previous meeting they said that the leaky roof endangered their central computer room.)

"The foam roof coating is subject to damage from birds and temperature variations requiring annual inspections and repairs to prevent additional leaking." Making matters worse, the roof has “over 20 aging HVAC units, very inefficient exterior ducting, gas piping and electrical conduit driving up the total project cost."

In fact, it looks to us like somebody cut a lot of corners to save money in the original construction by putting too much equipment on top of the roof requiring too many holes drilled through the roof instead of the more conventional central unit with ducting below a contiguous roof, hidden by suspended drop ceiling tiles.

"The roof must be inspected annually, holes repaired and recoated, however the lack of integrity and extensive HVAC penetrations of the system means that some leaks will remain and annual maintenance will be required until the roof is replaced." They also recommend, "Remove and replace with new roofing assembly. Yes, and the replacement of HVAC is just as critical."

The question of how to fund the roof upgrade is where things go sideways. The presentation says that $1 million is already allocated for roof projects this year, in addition $1.7 million is allocated to the administration center roof upgrade held over from prior years.

And they leave it at that. 

If all three critical roofing repairs are done, including the administration center, the main jail, and the emergency operations center, the cost could easily run to around $6 million or more. But since the county budget picture is so muddled, revenue data so late in coming in, and the extent of the overruns in other departments is unclear (perhaps partially compensated for by a hoped for "vacancy rate") that it's very hard to tell which roof repair options can be afforded.

The roof at the main jail is described as "failed," with tarps and plastic being used as a stopgap measure. The main jail roof "is a ballasted roof, meaning that the roof is held in place with the weight of gravel, but the gravel has broken down and needs to be fully removed from the building and properly disposed of." And, “There are multiple active leaks into the building and trapped water on the roof deck has caused unknown damage to the structure which will continue until it is uncovered and corrected.” (At who knows how much additional cost.)

All of the roof repairs should include replacement of the associated HVAC systems but it's not clear if the cost estimates include that cost. We think not.

The Sheriff’s Emergency Operations Center roof "has already been recoated and this coating is now failing as well."

So there are three leaky roofs that need attention very soon and nowhere near enough money to pay for it. Making matters worse, the major budget information gaps, which we have previously covered in detail, continue to be unaddressed beyond vague savings associated with the magic and unmanaged, unestimated "vacancy rate."

Ukiah was supposed to get around two inches of rain on Sunday so it will be interesting to see how much water damage County employees will see when they arrive for work Monday morning.

Essentially, Tuesday's Mendocino County Roof Report just says that there are major roof problems and not enough money to fix them — so there you go, Supervisors: you figure it out.


  1. Eric Sunswheat December 23, 2018

    Perhaps obviously county Measure B temporary sales tax mental health funds, need to be spent in part, to restabliish mental health support services at the low gap county admin and jail complex roof renovation projects, with underutilized vacant land there, used to establish the Tom Allman Jail Farms, in addition to more skylights in Beard of Supervisors public meeting and executive closed session chambers…

  2. Eric Sunswheat December 23, 2018

    Would be interesting to know ‘economic poison pill’to county, put in CEO Carmel Angelo’s 4 year renewed employment contract, if she is terminated early.

  3. George Hollister December 26, 2018

    “Making matters worse, the major budget information gaps, which we have previously covered in detail, continue to be unaddressed beyond vague savings associated with the magic and unmanaged, unestimated “vacancy rate.””

    I was thinking, which many find dubious and dangerous, that the county needs to hire a budget specialist. Give that person a fancy name like CFO. The CEO needs to agree to hiring this person, and be this person’s boss. I don’t believe, the budget questions Mark Scaramella has brought to our attention can be answered by anyone in County government. I suspect the same can be said for some of our County departments as well.

    Knowing the budget is so fundamental. Knowing where money is coming from, where it is going, how it is being spent is, and how much we have or don’t have is needed in order to manage, provide oversight, and to set policy priorities. A county CFO should be able to answer the questions Mark Scaramella has, and be of great assistance to the CEO and the county Board of Supervisors.

    I know, “it’ll cost too much”. I say BS to that. How much is it costing us being blind?

    • Mark Scaramella Post author | December 26, 2018

      The County already has all the budget staff they need. They are competent enough and do not cost any more than what we now pay. What’s lacking is a mentality to present the budget info in a useful way so that it can be properly understood and used effectively to make policy and decisions. As long as Official Mendo settles for disorganized numbers instead of information, they’ll continue to be blindsided every time a budget problem arises. When the local AV Fire Department first absorbed the non-profit Ambulance Service last year there were major budget questions which had not been raised before because the Pre-Fire Department Ambulance Service had enough donations to cover their occasional shortfalls without going into the red. When the CSD’s budget committee (which I’m on) first saw it, there didn’t seem to be any way that the revenues could cover the expenses. Not only that but payments for services were months late, and not reliable or predictable. (We’re talking a budget of less than $100k here.) At my urging (and some, ahem, negativity) we came up with a reasonable (if still imperfect) way to track costs against budget while building up some reserves. We also track types of responses, insurance categories, payment rates, other revenue sources, personnel (mostly volunteers) and expenses (including the ridiculously overpriced Narcan and EpiPens) on a monthly basis. After a year things are starting to stabilize, but it’s still a tightrope walk. But without this kind of attention, the ambulance risks going into a deficit and planning for future staff and equipment costs is essentially just guesswork. This kind of monthly oversight is clearly called for in each county department, but nobody at the County level seems able to even bring it up, despite having existing staff and core data that could be used to do it. It’s not rocket science. The only reason I can think of that they don’t do it is: they don’t want to know. Because if they knew, they’d have to make decisions and they prefer to leave those decisions to staff, even though in many cases staff doesn’t have the information needed to do it either. Like the pre-Fire Department ambulance service, it limps along ok until bumps (or recessions) come along and then everybody has to wing it. Most amazing is the total non-accountability of the tens of millions of Mental health contract dollars. But that’s a topic for another day. (Or the Grand Jury?)

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