Mendocino County Today: Jan 11, 2013

by AVA News Service, January 10, 2013

A NEW and not widely noted one percent state tax on wood products is now in effect, much to the chagrin of retailers who say they won’t collect enough of it to pay their costs gathering it. Adding to the confusion, the tax (AB1492) doesn’t apply to all wood products, just some of them. The money is supposed to help the state’s lumber producers speed up the processing of timber harvest plans but will add an estimated $115 to the cost of a 2,000-square-foot home.

MEMO OF THE WEEK: Effective April 1, 2013, the County will be implementing a change in its Hospital/Physician Network which will result in a substantial savings to health plan costs to both you and the County without sacrificing access or quality of care for employees. Please see the important Health Plan notification posted on the HR website, http://www.co.mendocino.ca.us/hr/ehb/Announcements.htm. If you have any questions, please contact the Human Resources Benefits Specialists at 234-6603 or 234-6604 or the County’s Claims Administrator, Delta Health Systems, at 800-291-0726. We will provide you with further information regarding implementation measures at a later date. (Ed note: This change is projected to save up to $1.9 million annually at no increase in cost or reduction in service to the employees. The savings come from negotiated reductions in provider charges — doctors and hospitals.)

NEW MENDOCINO COUNTY SUPERVISOR calls for conservative fiscal policy.

Mendocino County’s legislative body welcomed its newest member Tuesday, when 4th District Supervisor Dan Gjerde took the oath of office and his seat among the five members of the Mendocino Board of Supervisors.

Gjerde replaces Kendall Smith, who announced in 2011 that she would not run for the 4th District seat again. He spent 14 years on the Fort Bragg City Council and wants to see the county try a conservative fiscal approach he says has worked for Fort Bragg.

“We were very cautious in making revenue assumptions, so when there were surprises, they were almost always good surprises,” Gjerde said.

Giving an example, he said municipal budgets typically calculate an annual increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax revenue, commonly called a bed tax, that is levied for hotel stays and generates tax revenue for local governments. Instead of relying on a projected increase, Gjerde said, the city looked at the actual revenue from the prior fiscal year and adopted that figure as the assumption for the coming fiscal year.

The city, he said, had hired a consultant who gave optimistic, middle-of-the-road and cautious projections, but “even the cautious number was too optimistic.” The result, he said, is that, “you can end up building projections based on projections.”

Although he admitted he has much to learn about the county’s retirement system, Gjerde said he would also like to see that same principle applied to the expected rate of investment returns the county’s actuary uses to project revenues for the pension fund.

“I’m optimistic that the board and county staff will continue to communicate with the retirement board and monitor expenses as much as possible,” Gjerde said, and added that he would like to see the Mendocino County Employees Retirement Association board “act without fear.”

He got right to work expressing those views on Tuesday, when, after the swearing-in ceremony, the Board of Supervisors took up the task of assigning board members to various boards of directors, committees and working groups. Gjerde won’t fill Smith’s shoes on the retirement board, but he took the opportunity to present at least an outline of his idea.

“I suspect in the past that the (retirement) board has been reluctant to take some actions because of the possible financial consequences to the county,” Gjerde told his new colleagues.

Retirement Administrator Rich White had reported previously that the county’s retirement system had seen an average of a 6.25-percent rate of return in the past 10 years, according to Gjerde, but a fairly industry-standard projection had recently dropped to 7.75 percent, and may drop again to 7.5 percent.

“I think the (retirement) board should consider looking at the past 10 years in making projections for the future,” he said, using the 10-year average as an example. “That means they will be asking the Board of Supervisors for more money upfront … (but) it’s either pay them now or pay them later.”

The county’s general fund makes up the difference when there is a shortfall, which Gjerde noted has led to the county taking out bonds to make its retirement system whole “every 10 years or so,” which in turn costs the county “two times as much” because of the interest the bonds accrue.

Although it would cost the county more upfront if the retirement system projected a lower rate of return, Gjerde said it’s his understanding that “half of the county’s payroll comes from state and federal sources, and we could bill half (of the higher upfront costs for the pension system) to those sources.”

Gjerde is also interested in transportation issues, and has sat on the Mendocino Council of Governments — which allocates state and federal dollars for transportation locally — for 14 years, 10 of those as the city of Fort Bragg’s voting representative.

The Board of Supervisors appointed him, along with 3rd District Supervisor John Pinches, to represent the county on the board. Gjerde has been the chairman of the MCOG board of directors for at least the past three years.

Gjerde said he also plans to ask the Board of Supervisors to form an ad-hoc committee to look at the long-term sustainability of the county’s paved and unpaved roads.

The ad-hoc’s purpose, he said, would be “to get a better idea what the (Mendocino County) Department of Transportation is currently trying to do with the money they have and where they want to be 10 years from now.”

He elaborated, “I feel I need a better understanding of where it’s all headed. Maybe we need to spend the dollars more effectively.”

With the Marine Protection Areas already set up on the coast, Gjerde said he hopes local residents knowledgeable about the ocean “and maybe underemployed fishermen” can get jobs helping the government monitor marine life and activity.

He also wants to see the county take a more active role on Mendocino ACHIEVE, a local advisory group to the county Public Health Division comprised of volunteers from area school districts, hospitals and other organizations that focuses on healthy eating and healthy habits, such as walking or biking to school.

Gjerde represents the 4th District, which encompasses Fort Bragg and the northern half of the Mendocino County coastline, on the five-member Mendocino County Board of Supervisors. Gjerde, 43, lives in Fort Bragg and is a registered Democrat.

— Tiffany Revelle, courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal

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WE’VE BEEN A LITTLE REMISS in failing to report on a subject of major importance to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors and the residents of Mendocino County: The elimination of toll takers on the Golden Gate Bridge. You may not have known that Mendo has a keen interest in the subject.

This is the kind of subject that the Press Democrat is actually capable of handling in a few short sentences: “The Golden Gate Bridge is planning to automate all of its toll-taking by March. Humans no longer will collect tolls, nor will motorists stop to pay them. Instead, people will have the option of using FasTrak or opening a pay-as-you-go license-plate account. If you do neither and still drive through the toll gate, you can expect to receive an invoice in the mail.”

This simple change took up almost an hour of the Supes time last month when Mendocino County’s appointed representative on the Golden Gate Bridge District Board, former Third District Supervisor Jim Eddie, gave his annual report to the Board. Mr. Eddie — one of 19 Bridge District trustees from six Norcal counties — gets about $500 per meeting for attending monthly meetings in San Francisco and occasionally reporting to the Board of Supervisors.

If you were wondering what Mendocino County has to do with the Golden Gate Bridge or why Mendocino County gets to appoint someone to the 19-member district Board, a little history is in order.

In the late 1920s, proponents of the construction of the Golden Gate bridge realized that, after the 1929 crash the only way they’d be able to finance the enormous construction cost ($35 million at the time) they’d have to form a taxing district, aka the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District. The district consisted of San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Del Norte and parts of (inland) Mendocino and Napa counties. On November 4, 1930 voters within the district went to the polls and put their homes, farms, and business properties up for collateral to support the $35 million dollar bond issue to finance the bridge through the Bank of America (which wouldn’t have financed the huge project without the collateral provided by northcoast voters/property owners). It passed by more than 3-1. The last of the construction bonds was retired in 1971, with $35 million in principal and nearly $39 million in interest being paid entirely from Bridge tolls. With the exception of the Sausalito Lateral approach road (Alexander Avenue today) which was built as a federal WPA project, there were no state or federal funds involved in building the Golden Gate Bridge. Ever since, Mendo’s small participation in the bond issue and Bridge District financing meant that Mendo got to appoint someone to the Bridge District Board.

After Mr. Eddie’s rambling summary of the new automated toll taking process, Supervisor Dan Hamburg decided to take the opportunity to grandstand about rich people getting special treatment. “You mentioned early in your remarks that people, I think you were talking about Southern California, can now buy access to a special lane of traffic,” Hamburg said.

“Yes, they’re going to get their hot lanes,” replied Eddie.

Hamburg: “Are those on toll roads? Are those on regular state and federal roads or toll roads?”

Eddie: “They are allowed to go into the carpool lanes, that’s what they’re doing.”

Hamburg: “And these are on regular highways?”

Eddy: “It’s on one of them. I don’t know how many of them got them. But there is— I read an article in the paper that showed the leaders pointing down and talking about it. I was surprised by it.”

Hamburg: “It just seems so fundamentally unfair. I mean, to actually say, well, you know, because you’ve got more money you get to travel in a certain lane. It’s just more of this kind of, you know, where the wealthy kind of get their own infrastructure even, I guess. I really object to that. I’m not sure I understand. I was on the bridge recently and just because I didn’t plan ahead early enough I ended up in the Fastrak lane and I don’t have a Fastrak card. So I called the Golden Gage Bridge district directly because I knew I was going to get a ticket because I went through without paying anything and they said, oh no, don’t worry about it, you will get a notice in the mail and you just pay your whatever it is, it was cheap, I think it was just paying the toll. Is that the way it’s going to work?

Eddie: “Yes.”

Hamburg: “Are you sure?”

Eddy: “It’s just the toll.”

Hamburg: “Isn’t that an awful lot of mailing? Do people…?”

Eddy: “It is, except we probably have a lot of people that use their license plate, register it and we will collect off their credit card. The other thing is we will have more Fastrak. The out-of-state people will be a little bit slower but they’ve got agreements with the other states to pay it because the other states are doing it too.”

Hamburg: “Okay, but just for me going through, how will I be billed? Will I have to get somebody my credit card number?”

Eddy: “The State will probably bill it as a violation you know because when we went back to the state and the state took it over and called it a violation. We didn’t do that, we sent out the first notice that they had crossed the bridge and if they pay their fine, but then it was a violation after the first notice.”

Hamburg: “That was on my notice.”

McCowen: “I would like to clarify this point though. Once this changeover is made [to fully automated toll-taker-less tolls], everybody either has to either be on Fastrak or have the license plate arrangement with a credit card. If somebody goes through once this changeover is made is the state in charge of that? And will it would be a violation?”

Eddie: “No.”

McCowen: “Or will they still just get a notice from the bridge district?”

Eddy: “It will be a bill sent to them, but not a violation. They got 21 days to pay the bill.”

McCowen: “So as long as they pay the toll amount within that 21 days –”

Eddie: “As long as they pay that –”

McCowen: “They will be okay.”

Eddie: “That’s fine.”

McCowen: “Okay.”

Eddie: “Yes.”

McCowen: “Thank you.”

Eddie: “The rental car agencies have already made a promise to pay the rental cars and then put it on the bill so they will collect that end of it. It’s different. But I think you’ll see the state following it quickly because all that back up in the morning if you watch the Bay Bridge you see a big line backed up and then you see the fast cars coming on the Fastrak and there’s not many of them. But if you get it on the license plate you’ll move through those. And probably the new sections of the Bay Bridge will have that too.”

Everyone seemed satisfied with Mr. Eddie’s answer.

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A SIGN in the window of the Boonville Saloon says it is for sale.

SYMPHONY OF THE REDWOODS to perform Mozart, Beethoven. Saturday and Sunday, February 2nd and 3rd, Allan Pollack conducts the Symphony of the Redwoods’ 30th Season Winter Concert with guest clarinetist Eric Kritz at Cotton Auditorium in Fort Bragg. On the program are the Overture to Rossini’s La Scala di Seta, Mozart’s Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Concerts are Saturday evening at 8pm, and Sunday afternoon at 2pm. Mozart’s Concerto for Clarinet is a well-loved work, whose middle movement has been used in several movies, including Out of Africa. Guest clarinetist Eric Kritz, resident on the North Coast, has performed with the Mendocino Music Festival, and the Santa Rosa, Napa, and Marin Symphonies. Tickets can be purchased online at www.symphonyoftheredwoods.org or at the door. 707-964-0898 for more information. Kris Stuart, Manager, Symphony of the Redwoods. 707-964-0898. symphony@mcn.org

One Response to Mendocino County Today: Jan 11, 2013

  1. subscriber2@theava.com Reply

    January 11, 2013 at 9:58 am

    The Golden Gate Bridge website says board members get $50 per day for meetings.
    Jim Eddie is currently president of the board and is topped at $7500 per year.

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