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County Notes (October 14, 2021)

On Tuesday the Supervisors scheduled a special “Workshop Presentation from the Sheriff's Office on the Annual Budget of the Sheriff-Coroner's Office.”

The workshop was described as: “A two-hour overview of the annual budget of the Sheriff-Coroner’s Office … with the goal of creating a better understanding for the Board of Supervisors. The presentation will include descriptions of major revenues and expenditures, how they are projected and reported, and what are the conditions in which overages may occur. Funding sources including the general fund and special grants will be identified.”

The timing of this presentation was interesting. Any day now Judge Ann Moorman is expected to issue her ruling on the Sheriff’s lawsuit against the County, much of which involves the Sheriff’s budget. Too bad this presentation hadn’t occurred sooner. Perhaps the entire silly dispute that provoked the Sheriff to sue the County over his “structurally underfunded” budget, threats to send him a personal bill for overruns, blaming his department for minor errors in the County motor pool, and attempts to take over his law enforcement computer system to favor one particular CEO staffer could have been avoided.

Supervisor Glenn Mcgourty opened up Tuesday’s Sheriff’s budget discussion by asking the Sheriff and his colleagues to be “courteous and professional.” CEO Angelo wasn’t on hand, nor were any of her lieutenants/deputies. Apparently, they weren’t interested in hearing the Sheriff discuss his budget. If that was intentional, it’s very rude and not the kind of professional response McGourty had called for.

We don’t have any idea what made McGourty think that the discussion would be anything but civil. If anything, it was too civil, too cordial, as if everybody was carefully whistling past the Sheriff’s pending lawsuit against the County, and the problems underlying the Sheriff’s budget were minor and academic. But the Sheriff’s budget was main reason the Sheriff sued the Supervisors, a case which is still pending in Judge Ann Moorman’s courtroom.

Supervisor Maureen Mulheren summarized the discussion this way: “Presentation by Juanita Dreiling about the MCSO budget, one topic that comes up often is the amount being used by the Sheriff’s office for overtime, this year they used vacant position funds to balance a potential overtime gap. The Sheriff and his fiscal team will bring back a future agenda item that will show what funds will be needed to provide a realistic number for a fully staffed MCSO that meets the expectations of the public.”

Most of the presentation was narrated by Sheriff Matt Kendall’s budget pointperson Ms. Juanita Dreiling who walked the Board through the Sheriff’s budget line by line. 

The core of her presentation was a chart showing the budget for the Sheriff’s “1000 series” — the personnel side of the Sheriff’s patrol budget which makes up the bulk of the Sheriff’s costs.

Several things stood out in that chart:

This year’s (July 2021-June 2022) total budget is more than $2 million greater than last year’s budget which the Sheriff overran by over $1.4 million. (We still don’t know where CEO Angelo found that extra $1.4 million for fiscal last year.)

• Overtime this year is budgeted higher than it ever has been, although it is still expected to overrun.

• Patrol Division Salaries are up by over $800k even though the Sheriff’s patrol division is running at just over half staff. 

• Extra help is budgeted much higher than last year.

• The County’s retirement contribution for the Sheriff’s patrol division has gone way up by almost $1 million.

According to one chart in the Sheriff’s presentation the personnel costs have gone up because of:

Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs) provided for in labor agreements, Market study parity implementation, Premium pay and incentives, Changes to employer portion of state and federal contributions, Increases or decreases in employer paid portion of health benefits, Worker’s compensation rates, Personnel transactions (such as new hires, promotions, reclassifications, retirements, and terminations), Ability to recruit, hire and retain qualified staff, Vacant positions, Emergencies, trainings, and other events requiring staff to work overtime/backfill, Court mandates, and Changes to retirement plan contributions.

Unfortunately, these rather generic explanations were not quantified and don’t offer much basis for discussion.

But as glaring as our observations are, and as generic as the Sheriff’s explanation was, none of them arose during Tuesday’s workshop. Therefore, we’re forced to make educated guesses about what’s going on.

This year’s patrol budget, which the Sheriff had previously said was structurally imbalanced and unsustainable, is suddenly much closer to the Sheriff’s requested patrol budget than what was presented during budget hearings. That budget which was so much below what the Sheriff requested was accompanied by the citation of an obscure government code provision that said Department heads, including the Sheriff, could be personally responsible for overruns. That threat, plus a threat to take over his department’s computer operations, lead to the Sheriff suing the Supervisors, saying he didn’t trust the CEO to deal with his department honestly. 

Since then however, the County has quietly dumped an additional $1.3 million of PG&E one-time settlement money into the Sheriff’s patrol budget. While pleasing the Sheriff and substantially reducing the size of the Sheriff’s budget gap, this is a one-time band-aid, leaving the original problem unsolved in the years to come.

The overtime budget was apparently where most of that $1.3 million ended up, but the huge increase in pension costs — retired cops make much more than their non-uniformed fellow employees, especially the top officers — wasn’t mentioned at all. This number will only go further up unless a significant number of retired cops and their even higher paid retired supervisors die. (Retired Sheriff Tony Craver, for example, gets a pension of about $140k a year.)

The cost savings which one might expect from such a high number of patrol vacancies was not realized because most of them are on the injured list, some for extended periods, but are still drawing their salaries and not leaving a vacancy that the County could recruit a replacement for. (The Sheriff’s overall official “vacancy rate” was last cited as about 15%.) This also puts extra strain on the approximately two dozen deputies remaining on duty who must somehow cover the huge expanse of Mendocino County 24/7. It’s made even worse by whatever time-consuming serious crimes arise. Burn out is a serious concern if this stretches out for very long.

Again, however, the Board didn’t get into any of these issues. In the end they simply asked the Sheriff to come back later in the year with his own longer-term budget proposal. 

So the Sheriff probably won’t overrun his County-allocated budget by much this year thanks to the added $1.3 million PG&E settlement money.

But unless something significantly changes in either the Sheriff’s revenues or expenses, next year’s Sheriff’s budget will present the same sort of impasse that has been only temporarily been partially fixed this year.

The Sheriff’s budget picture could also change significantly depending on whatever Judge Moorman’s ruling contains.

* * *

The Board also filed a grant application to the state’s “Department of Cannabis Control” for over $18 million in “Local Jurisdiction Assistance Program Grant Funding,” and determine what the grant will request funding for locally. It will interesting to see if an infusion of over $18 million can do anything to salvage the County’s utter failure of a cannabis permit program. In all likelihood it will be a bloated attempt to recoup the many losses the program has incurred and perhaps increase enforcement staffing. 

According to the state’s grant guidelines:

“The May Revision proposes a Local Jurisdiction Assistance Grant Program with one-time funding of $100 million General Fund. This program is intended to: 

Aid local governments in more swiftly processing substantial workloads, including that related to environmental review, associated with transitioning the legacy market to a regulated market.

Support provisional licensees by allowing local governments to pass funding through to applicants for the purposes of assessing and mitigating environmental impacts.

Apply significant resources toward areas rich in natural resources and that have a high number of small cultivators, as both often require a heightened level of capital to meet environmental compliance standards.

Provide enhanced resources [aka more money] to eligible jurisdictions implementing equity programs.

Encourage local governments to modify permitting methods to better align with the state’s efforts to create a streamlined and equitable pathway to licensure.”

* * *

MORE MILLIONS FOR MENDO from State Department of Water Resources. According to a recent presser from the State Water Board, Mendocino County will receive (up to) $2 million to pay for hauling water to Fort Bragg and the Coast “to provide immediate potable water supply to residents (in coastal communities such as the village of Mendocino) who have run out of water due to drought.” Presumably, the money will reimburse the County for the water hauling project now underway which is shipping between 40,000 and 50,000 gallons a day to Fort Bragg where two locals haulers pick it up and deliver it to their Coastal customers at their regular price per truckload. Details are still to be worked out but the State will probably cover the full cost of the residential deliveries and a lot of the commercial deliveries. The DWR presser also reported that it expects to “launch the Urban and Multibenefit Drought Relief Grant Program this fall. The program will include an additional $200 million in grant funding for urban water suppliers and multi-benefit drought relief projects to address hardships caused by drought.” 

One Comment

  1. Rye N Flint October 14, 2021

    Nice advertisement from the county. Instead of spending money to retain more professionals, the county spends money on advertisement… so… Corporate.

    “Would you like to Advocate and make a difference in the lives of Mental Health Consumers in Mendocino County?” the ad reads…

    1- What’s up with the Capital Letters on “Advocate” and “Consumer”?
    2- What’s a “Mental Health Consumer”?
    3- How is Mendocino County BOS a good example of Mental Health?

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