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County Notes: Mendocino County Owes Local Ambulance Services Over $2 Million

At the April 19 Supervisors meeting, the Board was provided with a random collection of “preliminary” budget info which, for the first time, included a summary of the cannabis tax revenues the County has taken in since the County’s permit program was approved by the voters in 2016 with a pair of Cannabis Program Measures called Measure AI and Measure AJ. 

(click to enlarge)

Accompanying that chart was the following text:

“Revenue generated by the Cannabis department is considered General Fund and impacts Net County Cost (NCC) allocations. 

“Measure AJ advised the majority of revenues be used for enforcement of marijuana regulations, enhanced mental health services, repair of county roads, and an increase to fire and emergency services. 

“Cannabis revenue has been unpredictable over the last few years fiscal years (FY), which has the ability to significantly affect funding for core mandated services in varying departments, and adds a level of uncertainty in projecting revenue and balancing the budget.”

Buried further in the presentation was a list of “goals and priorities” which included: “Support for Emergency Services: Staffing support for Local Emergency Medical Services (LEMSA), Explore Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Joint Powers Authority (JPA).”

A few people (mainly Supervisor Ted Williams) are talking in very vague terms about a JPA, but it’s unlikely to go anywhere given the current County administration, as have all previous organizational jugglings concerning emergency services.

Despite the above (admittedly easily overlooked) reminder, the Board missed yet another opportunity to honor Measure AJ. In fact, nobody in that meeting mentioned it. 

“Measure AJ. Advisory Vote Only.” [2016] “If Mendocino County adopts business license taxes on cannabis businesses by the adoption of the measure adopting Chapter 6.32, Measure AI [the County’s version of a pot permit program which has since turned out to be unworkable], should the County use the majority of that revenue for funding enforcement of marijuana regulations, enhanced mental health services, repair of county roads, and increased fire and emergency medical services?” 

The County’s “Impartial Analysis” which accompanied the Measure: “If the voters approve Measure AJ, it would serve to advise the Board of Supervisors that the voters want a majority of the revenue generated by the Cannabis Business Tax, Measure AI, for enforcement of marijuana regulations, enhanced mental health services, repair of county roads, and increased fire and emergency services.”

The Advisory measure was added to the ballot as a sweetener to convince local voters to choose the County’s program over a competing program proposed by pot growers themselves. 

With that “advisory” promise, Measures AI and AJ passed in 2016 by more than 2-1. 

According to the new pot tax revenue chart, total actual cannabis tax revenues so far through the end of June of 2021 are about $15.5 million, plus $3 million more projected for this fiscal year. For round numbers, let’s just say that cannabis taxes have generated at least $16 million.

According to the language in Measure AJ at least half of that $16 million — $8 million — should go to roads, mental health, emergency services and cannabis enforcement. The County can keep the other $8 million.

Remember, these four subjects were put forward by Mendocino County (not the voters) as the areas the Board at the time thought the cannabis money should go to.

I.e., $2 million for each category.

Therefore by the end of this fiscal year EMS will be owed 1/8th of the $16 million already collected, plus whatever has come in this year — or roughly $2 million.

A reasonable analysis of the Measure AJ language indicates that the revenues should apply to Emergency Services in the Unincorporated Areas of the County; the cities have their own Emergency Services and funding streams. So we’re talking about three Emergency Services agencies: Anderson Valley, Laytonville and Covelo; not Ukiah, not Fort Bragg, not Willits. 

To recap, by a conservative calculation, using the minimum of $16 million in actual revenues so far we get:

Half of $16 million = $8 million (plus more from this year).

Divide that by four (roads, mental health, emergency services, cannabis enforcement)

At least $2 million is past due and payable to County Emergency Services in the unincorporated areas of Covelo, Laytonville, Anderson Valley. 

Or, $2 million / 3 = almost $700k each for those three “struggling” (Supervisor Williams word) ambulance operations. 

Not that it needs to be said, but just in case some Supervisors have forgotten, a few years ago the County belatedly (and grudgingly) decided to include fire and ambulance services in the old Prop 172 sales tax disbursements when they acknowledged that Fire and Ambulance services are (obviously) part of “public safety” which Supervisor Williams says repeatedly is the County’s top priority for funding. 

Yet Supervisor Williams continues to stonewall much more modest requests for additional funding for the three unincorporated ambulance services, at one point saying that he (alone) thought that a “county-wide solution” was necessary. Then he trotted out the JPA idea which, at best, is years away. Then he suggested to Anderson Valley that Anderson Valley float their own local tax. Lately, he’s talking about a new county-wide tax. 

But again, that $2 million is the absolute minimum that is already past due.

A good case can be made that Mental Health is more than adequately funded already via state grants and Measure B.

And “Enforcement” (i.e., cannabis code enforcement staff) should be a calculable number for the years in question and we doubt it comes to one fourth of half of the over-$16 million.

In other words, substantially more than $2 million is overdue for ambulance services.

Other points:

Failure to honor this advisory measure in good faith means that the public will lose faith in County promises in future ballot measures.

Ambulance services are essential services and are in universally acknowledged financial difficulty — now. Not some day in the imaginary future of JPAs and new tax measures…

Ambulance services in the unincorporated areas are mostly volunteers, meaning that the money they get is multiplied several times over in terms of value received.

Ambulance services in Mendocino County only get a small percentage of what they bill for after responding, at all hours, to road accidents and health emergencies among visitors. In America’s convoluted health care billing arrangements, much of this volunteer work goes un-reimbursed.

If necessary, the communities involved are prepared to circulate a petition for a ballot measure to force the County to spend the money as Measure AJ “advised.” But Anderson Valley, Laytonville and Covelo shouldn’t have to do that. 

Mendo could start to honor what the voters “advised” right now by allocating a significant portion of that owed $2 million they’ve already raked in to the County’s struggling ambulance services that need immediate help. The Supervisors have been sitting on it and thumbing their collective noses at the public’s advice for years. 

PS. As of last month, the Executive Office had 16 authorized positions, one of which was vacant. The majority of those 16 are “Deputy CEOs” which cost around $200k each with benefits. Three years ago, in April of 2019, the Executive Office had 12 positions with two vacant. There has never been a single question about where the money comes from for those additional Deputy CEOs. 

Wacky Pot Stats

CLOSE READERS may recall that last month the Supervisors, worried that millions of dollars of pot taxes were going uncollected from the legal pot growers whose market has nearly collapsed and whose permits are mostly still pending, asked Cannabis Department Director Kristin Nevedal to produce some updated numbers for the Cannabis permit program including some tax info.

We’ve asked versions of this question of various department heads in the past. And just like the responses to our previous inquiries (other than requests for specific County documents which the County is pretty good at), Ms. Nevedal’s “numbers” confuse more than they clarify.

Here’s a typical set of numbers from her response included in next week’s Board Agenda Packet:

I defy anyone, even its creator, to make sense of this chart.

The Department of Cannabis Control is a state organization with a title that sounds like a Monty Python skit. We have no idea what “AG” means, much less “Active AG.” (Applicant Grower? Administrative Genius? Almost Gloomy? Mendo AG, a new strain of OG Kush?) We have no idea how much overlap there is in these numbers; we assume none, but then again…

Let’s see, what else can we guess at? Um, apparently, 26% of Mendo’s “AG numbers” that are “eligible” for the County’s “30 day corrections portal” are delinquent in their taxes (which seems like a reference to state taxes due, not County taxes — but we have no idea.) It appears that the “In good standings” are less delinquent than the other categories, whatever that means and which at least is understandable. And it seems like the people who are “ineligible for the 30 day corrections portal” are more delinquent than any other mystery category. But that should not be a surprise: why would anybody who’s ineligible for correcting their apparently inadequate permit application pay taxes for something they will never be permitted to do?

OH WELL, it’s Mendo’s pot permit program so we don’t know why we even expected to make any sense of it. We’ll leave it to the Supervisors to figure this out for us on Tuesday. They and their many Deputy Counsel attorneys and ever-growing staff of Deputy CEO’s are well paid to know how to read pot permit gibberish.

Less Water, More Water Bureaucrats

ANOTHER BAD JOKE on next Tuesday’s agenda is the (partial, of course) results of the $400k consultants who are supposed to be helping the County set up a new version of the water agency. The consultant recommends that the County set up a new water bureaucracy with built in enlargements each year for the next three years starting at $415k per year and growing to over $1 million per year. After all, we all know that the worse the drought the more we have to pay for a water agency, right?

Remember, at its largest, the County Water Agency before it was deleted back in 2009 in the wake of the Great Recession, was never more than 1.5 people, a manager and a part-time hydrologist. They didn’t do much, but then, at least they didn’t cost that much. But now with the passage of time and under this rubberstamp board and a drought to worry about, they’re still not going to do much but they’re going to do not much with a lot more people: A $180k General Manager (rising to $340k at year 3), a $70k Department Analyst (rising to $126k at year 3), a $100k Hydrologist (rising to $180k at year 3); a $90k “future technical or administrative” (rising to $163k at year 3); and a $40k Inter County Labor Transfer (rising to $72k at year 3); plus office costs and “consulting support” for another $125k rising to $140k at year 3.

OH, the County doesn’t have $400k rising to over $1 million lying around, you say? No problem— the consultants suggest that the County float a tax measure to cover the cost. 

Never mind that they don’t mention that all of these people should be applying for grants for actual water conservation or storage projects (which no one in the unincorporated areas has proposed besides the $5 million Mendocino town storage tank project which won’t “break ground” for five years). Funny, they don’t mention any grant writing staff, nor what they’d apply for, nor how much of the cost those grants can be expected to cover. But what do they know? They're just consultants who should know that.

GIVEN THE COUNTY’S history of ignoring the will of the voters who passed most of the measures the Board proposed in recent years, it might be a steep uphill climb to convince the voters of another sales tax for the sole purpose of funding a water agency which holds no water rights and steadfastly refuses to impose basic things like conservation targets or gaging requirements on the County’s many little water districts.

SO THERE’S ANOTHER $400k down the drain (ahem). To this day we have no idea which budget line item this particular waste of time and money was funded out of. But, like the Strategic Plan consulting contract (which has now magically ballooned to over $100k with nothing but platitudes and boilerplate to show for it), it sounded like a good idea to the Board at the time — they approved the water agency consulting contract on the consent calendar, unanimously, no questions asked.

Another $600k for Tourism Industry?

IT’S VERY TIRESOME to report time and again about how much money the County wastes on their annual tourism promotion subsidy. This year the County plans to hand over another nearly $600k to the wine and cheese and B&B crowd for self-alleged “marketing” of Mendocino County. The promoter's main argument? Other counties do it. 

You can spend a couple of hours on line reading their fancy marketing brochure about how well they’re organized and how well and how much advertising they do and how important they are and so forth, but you won’t find a single thing explaining how much their advertising on-line and elsewhere actually increases tourism in Mendocino County. (We’ve demonstrated before that the Transient Occupancy Tax, which they say their marketing helps to increase, actually tracks closely with overall sales taxes, meaning that there’s no measurable connection between their expensive promotion and local tourism ups and downs.) 

The original purpose of the transient occupancy tax was to fund local services for tourists (like ambulances and cops who often pick up the misadventures of our visitors and which accompanies tourists’ arrival, not to be turned around and used to increase it. Tourism (i.e., wine and restaurants and associated events) is the only industry that gets its own direct marketing subsidy from the County, an indication of how well fastened they are to the County’s budget apparatus. In all our years of following this hand-out, only Supervisor John Pinches ever wondered why Mendo singled out one industry for a big subsidy out of the General Fund. 

The Tourism Gang also assesses themselves for over $1 million a year which you might think would be enough on top of their individual business marketing. But no, Mendo just hands over the $600k just like they do to their top officials’ salary requests for no other reason than other counties do it so Mendo has to. 

Just once, we’d like to see Mendo — especially this year when pot taxes are way off — put the money to underfunded local public safety services like it should be, and see if there’s any noticeable drop off in tourism. Of course, that’ll never happen. But we can dream, can’t we?

2022 District Attorney Filing Stats

January: 452 arrests, 64 felonies. 55 declined for prosecution. 15 returned for further investigation.

February: 479 arrests, 78 felonies. 65 declined. 24 returned for further investigation.

March: 514 arrests, 91 felonies. 46 declined. 46 returned for further investigation.

Summary: Almost 1500 arrests in the first three months of 2022, 233 of which were felonies (about 15%). Or, two or three felony arrests per day. Very few of them go to trial. So far in 2022 there have only been ten jury trials, two of which were murder cases, two for criminal threats, two for DUI, plus one each for reckless evasion, burglary, vandalism, and attempted murder.

Of all the DA’s many statistics — the DA provides far more data than any other County department — the one we find most interesting is the rejection rate. On average, for January through March, the DA has declined to file charges on more than 10% of arrests. But no further explanations are provided.

Fire Sirens in Redwood Valley?

REMEMBER THE MINI-UPROAR in the weeks following the Redwood Complex fires in 2017 about the use of warning sirens? At the time, a few experiments with sirens were held in subsequent years and the general impression was that they were not very effective in rural conditions and the idea was tabled — until 2022.

In April, the County issued a Request For Proposals for “Emergency Warning Siren Project Manager Services.” They expect to contract with someone this summer for a possible siren project in Redwood Valley, and maybe other County locations.

“In Phase I of the project, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office and Office of Emergency Services will work in partnership with local fire districts to analyze feasible siren installation locations based on existing infrastructure, population, and acoustical analysis provided through the siren vendor. The partnering fire chief at Redwood Valley-Calpella Fire District will work with the contracted siren supplier (selected through a separate RFP) to establish the number of sirens needed in the district; the number of sirens listed above in this scope of work represent the maximum number which may be installed during this project. Following the feasibility analysis, final purchase, installation and initial tests of the sirens will proceed in Phase II of the project.”

In August of 2020 the Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Committee discussed sirens and reported in their minutes:

“Chris said RVCFD has obtained one siren to install for early notification from Calpella to Tomki. In the next 3 months, the board will conduct sound testing. Re sirens: RVCFD has thus far found funding for a first siren with about $60,000 in FD funding. They estimate that about 5 sirens altogether will be needed to cover the valley for emergency notification only, from Calpella up Tomki Rd. and across the valley west to east. FD researched latest technology among local county agencies (Lake, Sonoma, etc.). Additional sirens will likely not cost as much as the original “backbone” siren. FD will be researching future funding sources, including grants. Re. old “noon” siren that used to sound from the FD, but wasn’t used during the 2017 emergency: that was a manually operated siren that needed to be staffed with a live person. During the fire emergency, initially staff were trying to first locate the fires attached to the emergency calls, operate fire apparatus, warn people to evacuate, and save victims and as a largely volunteer force, couldn’t spare anyone to run a siren that wouldn’t even reach beyond the immediate area. Further, effective siren systems need to be rolled out with procedures and training so the public will understand what the sirens mean and how to react; and coordinated with emergency agencies and evacuation plans. So, much work is needed for full future implementation of an Alert and Warning System. Gizmo discussed criteria for EAS system to work.”

In late 2020 Redwood Valley conducted some siren tests via cellphones and radios to see who could hear what. Residents were asked to call the station at 707-485-8121 if they heard the sirens and provide their address to help firefighters determine the range of the equipment. But results of those informal tests were not published. Presumably, they were inconclusive, just as they were when Anderson Valley tried a few warning sirens in 2019. Meanwhile, we understand there are some mobile sirens that may be used by law enforcement, but we have not heard about how they would be deployed.

Given that the County won’t have a consulting project manager selected until this summer, we don’t expect much to happen soon, and certainly not for the 2022 fire season. But it might be interesting to see if anyone can come up with better recommendations than the unimpressive equipment that was previously considered and tested.

Hopefully, something can be arranged before the next big fire hits somewhere in Mendocino County.

One Comment

  1. George Dorner May 20, 2022

    Looks like the ambulance services didn’t have the pull to be placed on the consent docket. It’ll probably take one of the Stupes being refused ambo service for them to be listed there.

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