Press "Enter" to skip to content

County Notes: Flying Blind

If you thought that Mendo’s budget picture would have improved or at least been clarified over the last few weeks since the last pessimistic budget presentation, you’d be mostly wrong.

The estimated deficit remains at just over $6.6 million, more than half of which is in the Health Plan deficit from FY2020-2021 (July 2020 to June 2021, the first full year of covid impacts). We have not heard anyone mention the status of the health plan/deficit for the next year (FY2021-2022; From July 2021 to June of 2022), but we can assume there will be another surprise deficit for that year as well since no one has been minding that budget item and the 2020-2021 deficit was only discovered last fall. Also adding to the deficit is the recently increased jail expansion overrun now estimated at $1.4 million, despite unanimous agreement that the state should pay most of the $10 million-plus overrun since it’s their project and they (allegedly) caused much of the overrun with their delated project approvals. Most observers think the jail expansion overrun will continue to grow since the construction phase of the project has yet to even go out to bid.

There are a couple of new items on the list of deficits and backfills. 

A new deficit contributor has been added this month: “FEMA RoomKey-Potential Non-Reimbursable.” That’s right: Somehow Mendo spent $1.6 million on covid housing which has now been deemed “potentially non-reimbursable.” Apparently, it’s more than “potential” because it is included in the latest $6.6 million deficit. This waste of money would have occurred on former CEO Carmel Angelo’s watch; it shouldn’t have been spent without assurance that it was reimbursable. However, current CEO Darcie Antle was Angelo’s budget person and she should have been on top of such presumed reimbursables as well. 

It’s good to see that what Supervisor Dan Gjerde described last month as “a colossal waste of dollars” is on the list of PG&E allocations that are being reallocated to the deficit. Just over $1.6 million that Gjerde and his associates approved for Coastal Valley EMS projects and admin has now been listed as being applied to the deficit, along with another $1.8 million of previous PG&E allocations which was to be spent on “carbon reduction.”

With this updated list of shortfalls and offsetting reallocations, the County now says it’s got about $700k of remaining deficit. But without a comprehensive department by department budget report, who knows? 

Last month, CEO Antle said she hoped to apply whatever the carryover from the last fiscal year to the remaining deficit which she guessed might be at least $500k. But the books from last fiscal year (2021-2022) which ended on seven months ago on June 30, 2022, are still not closed so nobody knows what the carryover will be. It is assumed that with a vacancy rate of over 25%, there will be some carryover. But here again, without departmental budget reporting, it’s not clear how much can be applied to the deficit. However, next Tuesday’s budget update makes it sound like this might not apply, noting: “Maintain Current Vacancy Rate for All Non‐mandated General Fund Budget Units, Exclude Positions Currently in Recruitment;Savings will be realized in future – no immediate savings.” 

This kind of ad-hoc piecemeal budget juggling only applies to the current year which ends in June. It leaves a lot of balls in the air, doesn’t address next year, and leaves a lot of unanswered questions. 

Such as: How much will last fiscal year’s health plan deficit be and will it continue next year? What departments are over or under budget and by how much and why? How much will unbudgeted outside legal services and lawsuit settlements cost? What kind of salary increases will the unions demand next year? (They reluctantly accepted a modest 2% increase and a $3,000 bonus late last year, saying that next fall they’ll want more.) 

Then we have the still-burgeoning cannabis bureaucracy despite a precipitous drop in permit applications and taxes and fees. 

Permit applications have stalled, and the majority of “provisional” permittees are delinquent on their taxes. Accordingly fee revenues are down and continuing to drop. Last year cannabis revenues were down by half from the prior years as the pot market collapsed — which everyone but Official Mendocino County had anticipated — creating a nearly $3 million shortfall. Failure to budget for the reduced cannabis revenues produced another deficit this year which no one has addressed either. Nevertheless, the Cannabis department continues to grow with yet more cannabis bureaucracy positions now in recruitment.

This month another large unplanned retroactive expense is proposed to fix the Creekside sinkhole in Willits which isn’t mentioned in any of the budget charts.

Consent Agenda Item 3g. “Approval of Retroactive Agreement with Wylatti Resource Management, Inc., in the Amount of $250,000 to Provide Temporary Short-Term Ingress and Egress at Creekside Cabins and RV Resort on State Highway 101in Mendocino County, Effective January 16, 2023, through June 30, 2023; and Approval of Appropriation Transfer of Funds in Fund 1100, Org Code PB, Increasing Appropriations to Line Item PB-823300 (Forfeiture & Penalty) by $500,000, Increasing Line Item PB-862189 (Professional Services) by $500,000, Funded by the Nuisance Abatement Line Item 2110-760791, to Support the Emergency Crossing Response at the Creekside Cabins North of Willits.” 

We doubt that the “nuisance abatement” budget has $500k sitting around waiting to be spent. (Although they might be able to dip into reserves which they have been reluctant to do so far.)

Another consent agenda item (3q) proposes to spend $250k more on additional software consulting from the property tax system vendor (Thomson Reuters/Aumentum) bringing the total consulting cost to almost $3 million — plus travel and per diem for the consultants. 

* * *

Mendo Mountain Labors Long And Hard For At Least Three Years And Barely Produces A House Mouse.

Back in January of 2020 Supervisor John Haschak started talking about ending the Federal Trapper program in favor of “wildlife exclusion” services. In 2021 Haschak and local opponents of the trapper program convinced Supervisors Maureen Mulheren and Ted Williams to agree with Haschak and they voted to end the trapper program on grounds that it was (allegedly) killing too many animals indiscriminately and was a subsidy to ranchers. (Subsidies to the wine-tourism industry are fine though.) 

Back in August of 2021 Laytonville anti-trapper activist Jon Spitz wrote a letter to the Editor announcing that “Supervisor John Haschak informed the Board that he is working on [sic] developing an ‘exclusion service’ that will provide all County residents with non-lethal alternatives to protect their property from wildlife damage.”

The County put out a nearly unworkable Request for Proposals for wildlife exclusionary services and, predictably, nobody bid for the pathetically small contract/workload. The following year a very competent Laytonville woman who’s also on the County’s Fish and Game Commission offered to take the contract but she complained that she had been disqualified because she didn’t have some kind of odd “credential” that County Counsel wrongly required. (It wasn’t mentioned in the RFP either). 

The idea of providing even minimal exclusionary services, however, has now completely gone. On next Tuesday’s Supervisors agenda, some three years after Haschak brought up the idea, the County proposes to provide no new services at all. Instead, according to a bewilderingly large collection of colorful Powerpoint slides — a sure sign that they’re trying too hard to make nothing look like something — existing Ag department and/or Animal Control staffers will simply refer locals with wildlife problems to other state agencies like the Department of Fish & Wildlife, all things they could have done three years ago. They will also “explain” things to locals, “consult with” them and do “education and outreach.” I.e., nothing remotely “exclusionary.” Nor any actual “services.” There will be no contract with anybody to do anything. 

Again, it took Haschak and company three years to produce this mouse, despite periodic promises since the subject first arose that “exclusionary services” were a better way to deal with wildlife problems than using local trappers.

Wherever one falls on question of the value of the federal trapper program, you’d think the County could have at least followed through with their promised alternative after three years “hard work” and contracted with the woman who was ready to provide actual services.

* * *

THE COUNTY CEO’S REPORT under former CEO Carmel Angelo was mostly a random collection of generic propaganda from any County department which felt like submitting some disorganized, meaningless info. But it at least contained a little useful data as well, such as vacancy rates in each department and some (albeit skimpy) departmental statistics. 

Current CEO Darcie Antle has figured out a way to be produce an even worse CEO report, with no data and all, and much more departmental bureaucratic boilerplate. In addition, several important departments are missing entirely, mostly in law enforcement. For all their babbling about transparency, all we get in the CEO report is the exact opposite.

For example: Here’s the CEO’s chart clarifying what the County’s “Information Technology” department deals with:

We particularly liked the irony challenged Social Services staff’s “Thriving Economy” chart. 

Apparently Mendo’s economy is “thriving” so much that almost $50 million in food stamps had to handed out to about half the population who do not have the basic income to feed themselves in the thriving economy; over $18 million of which was handed out under “emergency” conditions. 

* * *

READER AND PALACE HOTEL REHAB CRITIC JOHN ARTEAGA ASKS: “I wonder what the good Major thinks about all this?” referring to Ms. Shankar’s plans for rehabbing Ukiah’s dilapidated old Palace Hotel. “I guess he's a procurement guy with a realistic head on his shoulders about what things cost and what they can be expected to return. What's your opinion on this nonsense Prof. Scaramella? I wonder if you agree more with me that this project doesn't even begin to pass the back of the envelope test of financial feasibility?”

OUR REPLY: I’m willing to give Ms. Shankar and her youthful and energetic crew the benefit of the doubt for the time being. If she wants to sink some money into rejuvenating the Palace Hotel, who am I to gainsay it? Sure, the economics seem a bit strained because Ukiah isn’t exactly a major tourist mecca. But neither is Merced, which Ms. Shankar and her team cites as a model for her admittedly ambitious plans. As far as I can tell the rehab of Merced’s old Tioga Hotel in Merced seems viable so far with a creative combination of apartments, hotel rooms and retail space. 

And the recent rehab of the old Thatcher Inn in Hopland seems to be holding up and staying open. According to recent press coverage, Ms. Shankar and her crew are aware that the corner brickwork section of the building (one of three) is probably not salvageable. But other parts may be, although probably not as structural components. Reportedly, Ms. Shankar will be presenting some preliminary plans to the Ukiah City Council this month. Let’s give her a chance to make her case before we write off the Palace project. The primary obstacle will probably be the City of Ukiah and their misguided planning bureaucracy, not the economics or demolition and/or renovation itself.

The biggest problem facing Ukiah (and the County) is the pending abandonment of the old downtown courthouse next door to the Palace and the plopping down of a clearly unjustified new concrete bunker/courthouse over by the railroad tracks which benefits no one but our nine judges. Yet no one in official Ukiah has objected to it. I’d prefer that Mr. Arteaga spend more time trying to inform his readers of that ridiculous judicial folly that will do a lot more harm to Ukiah and the County than Ms. Shankar could ever dream of. 

* * *

SUPERVISOR MULHEREN (facebook post): “The US Army Corp in conjunction with Sonoma Water and the Department of Water Resources will increase the outflow of Lake Mendocino today (Tuesday). I read many, many posts about our inability to retain local control of this water resource. Many decades before I was born there was a Board of Supervisors with coastal supervisors that did not see this inland water resource as critical to the entire County and did not vote in favor of spending money on the Coyote Dam. Based on water conversations that we had last year I would say sadly, that hasn’t changed. We must work together inland and coastal in an effort to support improved water storage and local control in relation to Lake Mendocino and the Potter Valley Project. The County and City of Ukiah are collaborating to make sure that the release of the water does not cause flooding.”

SUPERVISOR MULHEREN NEEDS to provide a source for her unsubstantiated claim that coastal supervisors “did not vote in favor of spending money on the Coyote Dam,” because my uncle, former fifth district supervisor from 1952 to 1970 Joe Scaramella, told me that he was the only supervisor who voted to put up more money for Coyote Dam and the other four voted against it, saying they didn’t have the money or the need at the time. Or maybe there was more than one vote. Either way, we need the source of Supervisor Mulheren’s claim. PS. Mulheren’s claim doesn’t make internal sense either. If the “coastal supervisors” voted against it, that should have meant that the three inland supervisors voted for it and it should have passed, whatever “it” was. 

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *