Supervisor Williams posted the following allegation on line last week:
“Tuesday, March 14 BOS agenda item 4D is a ‘Presentation of Mid-Year Budget Report.’ Of particular concern to me is a projected reduction of $311k in revenue due to a lack of Supplemental Tax billing. Your elected Assessor completed the necessary tasks, but your elected Auditor-Controller/Tax-Collector has not. The County can only bill five years back, and after June, I believe these tax funds will be forever lost. Property tax is divided approximately 30% county, 63% schools, 5% districts, 2% cities. A $311k loss to County is perhaps a $652k loss to school districts? This is not a one-time failure. For 2015-2017, it appears the Tax Collector failed to bill $1.2M (~$2.5M loss to schools). I don't understand why supplemental tax bills have not been mailed year after year, but I see the impact every time I drive a county road. If we know the total, we must know the line items, so no matter what ‘software problems’ exist, someone should be able to print and mail bills? Harsh comments but troubling fact pattern. The Board of Supervisors can issue spot and discuss the problem, but lack authority to rectify.”
Which looked like another one of Williams’ too-slick-by-half, shoot from the hip charges in his ongoing attempt to blame County-wide problems on Auditor-Controller/Treasurer-Tax Collector Chamise Cubbison. In case any readers are unfamiliar with one of Williams latest catch phrases, he claims to be “issue spotting” by coyly pointing his finger at “someone.” Which would be more credible if he “issue spotted” elsewhere now and then.
So, we forwarded Williams’ allegation to retired Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Schapmire for a response.
“The County’s new property system was implemented in February 2021, prior to this implementation. At that time, the Assessor’s Office had a substantial backlog in reassessing property values due to changes in ownership and/or new construction completed. This is evidenced by referencing the years 2015-2017 where supplemental tax bills were not issued prior to the implementation of the new property system in February 2021.
“As has been frequently shared, the transition to the new property system has been extremely difficult, to say the least. This was due to the complexities of California’s property tax laws, as well as the advanced age of the legacy system. [which goes back to the 1980s] While there was little movement on issuing supplemental tax bills during the first year of implementation, it appears during the second year substantial progress has now been made, particularly with the Assessor.
“Supervisor Williams’ negative comments individually targeting the Auditor-Controller/Treasurer-Tax Collector for this “failure” appears to be punitive and shows a lack of knowledge on this topic. Had the substantial backlog not previously existed in the Assessor’s Office, the County would not currently be in danger of having ‘tax funds…forever lost’ due to the statute of limitations.”
Remember, all of these relatively small but important inter-related offices — the Assessor, the Treasurer Tax Collector and the Auditor Controller — are understaffed, but staffing levels in key departments are never “issue-spotted,” much less reported on on a monthly basis. Instead of throwing up his hands and saying the Supervisors are powerless to act, Williams could help “rectify” the problem by focusing his Board and the CEO on staffing problems in these offices, particularly since the Supervisors were the ones who exacerbated the problem by an ill-considered and ill-timed consolidation of the Auditor/Tax Collector offices causing predictable disruptions, retirements and resignations.
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Predictably, Williams’ latest bogus “Get Cubbison” effort fizzled again at last Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting when all the staffers involved had reasonable explanations for the delays in sending out “supplemental tax bills,” largely along the lines described yesterday by retired Tax Collector Shari Schapmire. Most of the problem stems from data incompatibilities between the complicated but decades old property tax system and the new even more complicated “Aumentum” property tax system, exacerbated by bad timing/covid, bad data assumptions and errors by the software vendor, and chronic understaffing. The one question that unfortunately wasn’t asked by anybody was how much has this overpromised but underperforming software vendor has been paid so far. Because if they’ve been paid in full, Mendo may indeed by stuck with a new system that, even if they end up patching it up with lots of extra staff work, isn’t worth what they paid for it and they have very little leverage to get the vendor to pay attention to the remaining problems.
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This week Mendo finally got around to thinking (if you can call it that) about the upcoming abandonment of the County Courthouse, albeit only about ten years too late. But the assumptions underlying that thinking are badly flawed.
From the County’s “Facilities Conceptual Strategic Plan”:
“Courthouse Relocation: The new Mendocino County Courthouse in Ukiah is scheduled to be complete in March of 2027 according to the California Courts website. This impacts several strategic plan items. Several County Departments serve the public in or near the Courthouse. The existing Courthouse will also be left entirely to the County when the Courts vacate the building. This asset should be sold to avoid substantial improvements that will be necessary to continue operations in this building. The items related to the Courthouse include: 2. District Attorney (DA), 3. Child Support Services, 17. Public Defender. The child support services building is dramatically under- utilized and the site is a few blocks from the new Courthouse site. One option for the District Attorney is to renovate and add-on to the existing building 55 to be used at the DA’s office. Another option could be to construct a new Public Safety building near the Courthouse that would include the DA and Public Defender. This public safety building could be enlarged to include other departments like Adult Probation, Child Support or Sheriff’s Administration.”
So Mendo’s facilities staffers think that maybe moving the DA’s offices across the street to the underutilized Deadbeat Dad building might be an option because the DA’s office would have to go someplace when the old Courthouse is abandoned so, they blithely assume, it can be sold. (Last we checked the market for old abandoned Courthouses is kinda small and weak.) And if the DA doesn’t move across the street, maybe the County could build a “Public Safety Building” for him and his law enforcement partners near the new courthouse which would further draw customers from the existing downtown Ukiah businesses. The facilities staff off-handedly adds, “This asset [the old courthouse] should be sold,” as if it’s as simple as that. Maybe they should get in touch with the new owners of the Palace Hotel next door and see if they want to convert the old Courthouse into a marvelous new downtown tourist attraction! Or maybe they could convert it into the Psychiatric Health Facility and save the Measure B money for real help to Mendo’s mentally ill community. (Come to think of it, that might not be a big stretch from its current use.) The facilities staff also seem to think that putting the DA’s offices in the Deadbeat Dad building would have an additional benefit of being “a few blocks from the new Courthouse site.” Which would leave the DA’s offices the same few blocks away that they will be when the new Courthouse goes up. The assumption then seems to be that the new Public Safety Building near the courthouse could be funded by the proceeds from selling the old courthouse. Voila! What a concept! This is the kind of nutty thinking that brought us the Pot Permit Program. Not only is it wrong-headed, but it presumes that fantasies are actual possibilities and timing is irrelevant. What could possibly go wrong? Why don’t they ask the Ukiah City Council or the DA or the Court Administrative Office or the public (including the downtown Ukiah Businesses) for input before hoking up such preposterous ideas?
Unfortunately, nobody on our out-of-touch Board of Supervisors even brought up the item so that staff could be told to start over.
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After the mid-year budget report agenda item was introduced last Tuesday, Supervisor Williams immediately moved to accept it, no discussion, no questions asked. All he wanted to discuss in the entire presentation was his latest “Get Cubbison” exercise which, as we noted yesterday, went nowhere because Cubbison and the other involved officials had reasonable, if unfortunate, explanations for the delays in issuing supplemental tax bills.
Nobody wanted to talk about the actual budget presentation. Budget presenter Tim Hallman read his/the CEO’s list of budget suggestions and Williams quickly moved to accept the report and the recommendations without discussion, none of which are even worth summarizing here.
When they went to public comment, Peter McNamee, who previously restricted himself to the wonders of solar energy for Mendocino County, in his usual highly professional style, told the Board that departments with budget variances should explain their variances to the Board, the staff and the public, adding that not doing so makes a mockery of the budget process.
Board Chair Glenn McGourty ignored McNamee entirely and immediately went to the next public commenter. Nobody had the least interest in the six significant departmental variances listed by the CEO’s staff, nor anything else about the budget or the mid-year presentation.
Well, hell, why should they care? It’s not their own money, so why bother?