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Mendocino County Today: September 23, 2012

GARAGE-MAJAL: Re: The Mendocino Transit Authority's new building. Nice building, sort of a “Garage-mahal.” $1200 per square foot. Just for comparison, my new building that Doug Crane put up, around $100 per square foot. The buildings I'm buying from DDR[on the old Masonite site], $15 per square foot. (I admit they need a bunch of work.) I understand there are some other amenities such as solar panels and lifts. But $6.2 million!? Really? That we are being cavalier with federal dollars instead of local dollars makes no difference, waste is waste and it should always be avoided. Contemplating how my team at Factory Pipe works to squeeze every second and every nickel out of every process while the government seems to go out of their way to do less with more just tears me up. — Ross H. Liberty, Ukiah

AND NOT TO MENTION the fancy offices upstairs for MTA boss Bruce Richard.


SCOTT MERRIMAN, 54, of Fort Bragg, formerly of Philo, was arrested on September 13 in Fort Bragg and booked into the Mendocino County Jail on charges of driving on a suspended license and being in possession of a controlled substance. Bail was set at $10,000 for each charge. Merriman has also filed a series of claims against the County aimed at Ten Mile Court judge Clay Brennan whom Merriman says jacked him around outside the law. Merriman had previously filed claims against Anderson Valley's resident deputy Craig Walker for many millions of dollars.

THESE KINDS OF BEEFS filed by lone obsessives and chemically-fueled lunatics are routinely rejected by the Supervisors, and that's where they end because the plaintiff does not have the means to further pursue them. Legitimate beefs are either settled or a lawyer, recognizing that there can be big paydays in honest grievances against public agencies, will take them on a contingency basis.

MERRIMAN IS A SAD CASE. The son of the late John Merriman, flight instructor at Anderson Valley High School, Scott grew up in Boonville and went on to become an accomplished musician. Somewhere along the line he lost his way, lately becoming a kind of roving County-wide irritant and perpetually in low-level trouble. His current claims include “…denial of medications in jail, near death from blackouts which claimant claims caused brain damage on two occasions,” and so on through denunciations of and allegations against a range of persons, from court personnel to trailer park management. What you have here is a mentally ill person whose paranoid unhappiness is exacerbated by drug use.

THE COUNTY’S EMPLOYEE HEALTH INSURANCE crisis just got a lot worse. According to an item on next Tuesday’s Supervisor's agenda, funding and premiums for the 2013 Plan Year will be increased by a whopping 15% effective January 1, 2013. “This increase is primarily due to an unanticipated 8% reduction in plan enrollees/participants and a 45% increase in monthly claims costs per employee over the most recent 12 months.” …

“IN 2011, 34 claims of $50,000+ accounted for 53% of total claims costs, 12 of which were over $100,000 accounting for $3.7 million (excluding drugs) in medical expenses.”

REPEAT: 12 sick or injured people cost $3.7 million in one year. Translation: The cost of premiums has risen so much that few of the County's relatively healthy employees are willing to pay for it and have left the program for cheaper coverage, leaving the County-insured heavy on unhealthy people whose County coverage costs them more and more.

WHAT ABOUT OBAMACARE? Staff is currently “evaluating the impact of Health Care Reform and possible health plan changes based on availability of exchange programs to employees enrolled in the County Plan.”

PERSONS who have studied the voluminous fine print of Obamacare (basically a huge gift to the insurance industry), say that it probably won’t help much with insurance costs or the County’s budget, since, on the one hand it might expand the pool of insured people and reduce costs, but on the other more people will seek care. And over time insurance costs which might be reduced by Obamacare will creep right back up once the freshly mandated participants are absorbed.

A RECENT Public Policy Institute survey found that 52% favor and 40% oppose Governor Brown's Proposition 30 — a four-year, quarter-cent sales tax hike and a seven-year income tax hike for individuals making more than $250,000 per year — while 45% support and 45% oppose wealthy civil-rights attorney Molly Munger's Proposition 38, which would result in a 12-year, sliding-scale income tax hike for most Californians. Most of the money would go toward schools. Proposition 30 has strong support among women, Latinos and younger voters, so “a high turnout would be very important for the success of this measure. Lower-income households show more support for either tax measure than do more affluent households. The recently enacted state budget is linked to Proposition 30's outcome: If the measure fails, about $6 billion in “trigger cuts” to K-12 and higher education will automatically take effect.

RECENT POLLS SHOW that 75% of likely voters oppose education cuts, and Brown — who has invested a lot of political capital in this ballot measure campaign — now has a 42% job approval rating. That's similar to his January standing, but his disapproval rating has grown to a record-high 47%.

BACK ON AUGUST 23RD, we wrote that former Gualala resident Gerhard Hanneman had been found guilty in Iowa federal court of conspiracy to distribute marijuana. (About 200 pounds.) Locally, Hanneman, had racked up methamphetamine-related convictions. Something of a legend on the South Coast of Mendocino County in the 1990s where he owned and operated a radio station, Hanneman flamed out his radio days with an hilarious daily denunciation of various of his South Coast antagonists, naming names in a kind of audio reprise of I'm Mad As Hell And I'm Not Going To Take It Anymore. Hanneman's live radio presentations were easily the most exciting radio in Mendocino County audio history. From there the guy seriously hit the skids and we lost track of him until he turned up in Iowa on the marijuana charges.

DATELINE DAVENPORT, IOWA, SEPTEMBER 17th: “Authorities say a 68-year-old Mendocino County man has been sentenced to prison for his role in an Iowa pot operation. Federal prosecutors say Gerhard Hanneman, of Fort Bragg, last week was given 10 years in prison. Hanneman had pleaded guilty to conspiring to manufacture and distribute marijuana. He must serve four years of supervised release when he leaves prison. Co-defendant Joseph Haynes has been given 78 months in prison, and co-defendant Andrew Gallagher is awaiting sentencing. Prosecutors say that from February 2011 to December 2011, Hanneman grew the pot in California, then processed it and drove it to Iowa for distribution by Gallagher and Haynes. Iowa police departments in Coralville, Fairfield, Iowa City and Ottumwa and several Iowa sheriff's departments participated in the investigation.”

OUR NEIGHBORS TO THE SOUTH. A reader writes: “Tomorrow we will see Sonoma County’s response to the Civil Grand Jury Report on the flawed pension increase process and it will be discussed at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, September 18th. The meeting starts at 8:30 and it is agenda item number 28 so it will probably be discussed at about 9:30. Anyone can address the Board of Supervisors for three minutes before they vote on the response. I will send all of you information on the response so you can decide how you want to respond either by showing up to the meeting or writing your supervisors or writing letters to the editors of your local papers. It will be very important for all of us to get the word out and put pressure on our supervisors to void the increase on the basis that it was illegally performed without the required cost study and public notification. How much has this increase cost the county? We we were all told in 2002 that it would be paid for by the employees with an additional 3% to 4% of salary increase in employee contributions. Calculating the actual cost is difficult to do because there are so many moving parts. Higher retirement amounts and rates, and investment shortfalls to name a few. But I think comparing the actuarial studies for 2011 for Sonoma County with Marin County is a good way to determine the approximate costs of the increase. Marin County did not provide retroactive increases to their employees. The average pay per employee is almost identical to Sonoma County; they are also a County Employee Retirement Law (CERL) county so they go by the same rules, and they have gone through the same investment shortfalls as Sonoma County. Marin County Pension Costs: The average county employee salary in Marin is $86,735. The employer contribution is 26.6% and the employee contribution is 10.09% for a total cost for pensions of 36.59% of payroll. Marin County does not provide social security benefits to their employees and they don’t have any outstanding pension obligation bonds. Sonoma County Pension and Retirement Benefit Costs: The average employee salary in Sonoma is $86,045. The employer contribution is currently 19.93% and the employee contribution is 12.17%. But Sonoma County also has to pay for the debt service on its pension obligation bonds which is 15.55% for a total cost of 47.65% or 11% of payroll more than Marin County. At the current county payroll of $322 million this represents an additional cost to the county of $35 million per year. In addition, Sonoma County pays 6.2% of salary into social security, so the total cost of pensions and SSI benefits for Sonoma County are 53.85% versus 36.59% for Marin County, 17.26% of payroll or $55 million more per year. The bottom line is that we are fighting for a roll back of illegally enacted benefits that will save Sonoma County about $35 million per year. That is a lot of money that could prevent us from going bankrupt and save our roads and other essential services. So stay tuned…”

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