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County Notes: County Employees Effectively Ignored In Next Year’s Budget

The last paragraph of the CEO Darcie Antle’s “Budget Process Overview” for next Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting is the only place in the entire presentation where employee pay and benefits are mentioned:

“During the budget workshops, the Board discussed continuing issues around deferred maintenance, American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, carbon reduction, energy use, the jail expansion project, jail staffing upon completion, the health plan, roads, funding for employee compensation, and parks. A holistic approach to the County operations will need to be taken to prepare the County for Fiscal Year 2024-25.”

And that almost grudging reference was near the end of a list of other presumably higher funding priorities, almost as an afterthought. That insult was followed by a non-sensical proposal to apply a “holistic approach” to the “issues.” Whatever that may or may not mean, it certainly does not mean more money for cash-squeezed employees.

CEO Antle’s “process” discussion also says, “Departments were required to provide detailed information related to requests for fixed assets, facility modifications, and additional staffing requests. This initially resulted in requests for funding of approximately $94 million, which was approximately $20 million greater than the discretionary revenue projections.”

In other words, not only are staffing requests last after fixed assets and facilities modifications, but departments are expected to somehow absorb perhaps up to 20% in staffing reductions.

You can be sure that we are not the only ones who noticed these glaring omissions. 

As a result, we are starting to hear serious grumbling from some County employees about the Supervisors’ refusal to offer even a token raise for the next year or three, combined with complaints about likely health insurance cost increases (i.e., pay cuts). 

Long-term 20%-30% vacancy rates already have employees stretched thin with significant work backlogs in many departments. Yet there are no near-term staffing improvements in the pipeline as more work backs up. 

As has been noted many times in the past, hundreds of members of the County’s biggest union, Service Employees International Union, are not paid for out of General Fund dollars and they are mystified as to why they can’t get raises which could be passed through to the funding agencies with no impact on the general fund and more payroll money coming in to the County. In the past, the County and the Union have said that those state and federally funded employees can’t be separated from the General Fund employees for bargaining purposes. You’d think by now somebody would have been able to figure out a way to solve what is basically a personnel problem. 

We’ve even heard talk of a strike, although we’ve heard that before. 

The County employees also know that the Supervisors are sitting on a large reserve in both the General Fund and the non-General Fund, yet that hasn’t been mentioned in any budgeting discussions or contract negotiations so far. 

Neighboring counties, notably Sonoma and Marin, are offering substantially higher pay than Mendo — Mendo management apparently assumes that most employees prefer to live and work in Mendocino County despite the lucrative job openings nearby. But that assumption is being severely tested and the more people leave the more the remaining ones are strained. 

A significant number of employees are already working second jobs over and above their current employment as well just to keep up with inflation. 

Despite occasional “we support our employees” rhetoric, the Supervisors remain aloof and keep their distance from the problems their own employees are having, letting an expensive San Francisco law firm and their depleted management ranks do the “negotiating,” which so far hasn’t gone anywhere as is obvious from the proposed budget for next year. 

The Supervisors are more concerned about the effects of inflation on their budget than on their employees. At this point it’s not clear where this will go. But for starters we expect that there will be a large turnout of very frustrated employees at next Tuesday’s budget hearings. 

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Highlights/Excerpts from Tuesday’s Budget Presentation for Fiscal Year 2023-2024 (July 2023-June 2024):

Total proposed Budget Unit 1000 (Non-departmental Revenue) available as of May 24, 2023, is $94,921,521 with special fund allocations of: $2,457,863 to Debt Service, $3,997,422 to Transportation, $1,464,282 to Library, $166,648 to IT Reserve, $4,880,000 to Fire Agencies, $400,000 to Disaster Recovery, and $145,443 to Water Agency, leaving $81,403,863 for allocation to General Fund Departments for their Net County Cost (NCC) assignment. As stated in Attachment A, the total proposed Net County Cost for General Fund Departments is $82,229,705.To balance the budget, it is recommended that $500,000 be appropriated from the General Reserve, $325,844 be appropriated from the TEETER reserve, and the appropriation of $4,474,333 one-time funds. 

Executive Summary

Roads: The size and condition of the County’s roads have a need greater than monies in the Road Fund. New revenue is needed to maintain the roads within the County. 

Public Safety: The California Constitution places public safety as the priority in county governments. The County must find additional new revenue to continue to support core, mandated services. Recruitment has been problematic in the current workforce environment. 

Property Conditions: Deferred maintenance and function of the County’s facilities is a concern. The facility conditions assessment and the space utilization analysis is ongoing and will come back with information that can be used to prioritize resources. These assessments will help in deciding what properties can be surplused. 

Jail Expansion Project 

The jail expansion project is moving forward. When completed, staffing the new jail and new funding will be needed for the expanded jail’s staffing and maintenance. 

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The proposed Fiscal Year 2023-24 budget is balanced with one-time funds and the use of County reserves. To balance the budget, it is recommended that $500,000 of the General reserve be appropriated for staffing, training, and support of property tax assessment. Another $325,844 from the TEETER reserve is recommended to be appropriated due to the projected impact the TEETER Fund will have on the 2023-24 General Fund. If there is carry forward available from the 2022- 23 year-end close, priority should be given to replenishing these reserves, and any further carry forward should prioritized to public safety vehicles. 

* * *

Allocate $265,381 as the Business Improvement District (BID) match funding [Tourism Promotion Matching Funds]; 

Allocate $4,200,000 of Measure P, Essential Services Transactions and Use Tax, to county fire services; 

Allocate $680,000 of Camping TOT, to county fire services; 

Allocate $408,633 of County Proposition 172 sales tax funding to county fire services; 

Salary and Benefits 

FY 2022-23, the County entered into 1-year agreements with all eight bargaining units. A 2% Cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA), a $3,000 one-time stipend payment, and no increase to health plan premiums were incorporated into the agreements. These 1-year agreements expire in calendar year 2023 and bargaining unit negotiations have begun with some bargaining units at the time of publication of this report. 

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Several local Fire Departments and School Districts have become concerned after we reported last week that Supervisor Williams had suggested that the County withdraw from the complicated property tax distribution plan known as the Teeter Plan. 

We rechecked the video of the meeting. In fact, Williams didn’t suggest it; he supported it and approved the idea in concept. 

The discussion was initiated at the Tuesday, May 23 Board meeting after Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector Chamise Cubbison suggested that the Board consider revisions to the Teeter Plan because some tax payment installments are expected to come in late, and that the County would then “carry the expense of that interest.” Cubbison said normally “we would Teeter that,” and so she “didn’t want to do that this year.” She recommended that “we [the County] Teeter it based on the installments, not just sending out 100% right now.” “We are talking about school debt, school districts, and whether the County is prepared to carry that burden,” said Cubbison.

Supervisor Gjerde immediately responded that he wanted to “reduce the risk that the Teeter Plan poses to the County’s general fund.”

County Counsel Curtis then said that if the County changed or withdrew from the Teeter Plan the “ultimate recipients” — i.e., Schools and Special Districts — “would no longer get their revenue on a set schedule. … Revenue would come in as collected, rather than paid up front.” Volatility would be shifted off of the County and to the “ultimate recipients.” 

Williams then said he agreed with Gjerde and that “this shift may drive us to better support the Assessor’s office. If Special Districts and schools are getting paid irregardless [sic] of whether we collect, we don’t have the same stakeholder engagement in forcing the County to collect taxes. Part of the reason I support it is the greater good here is that people who do pay taxes deserve to get the services that would be available if everyone were to pay. The great injustice is that there are parcels that have not been paying in for extra houses and yet they are on the same roads, using the same schools as the tax evaders. A lot of people are fed up with it. I think this shift in the approach to Teeter may help drive that conversation.”

NO MATTER WHO “suggested” the change or “shift,” the concern expressed by some school districts and fire departments is valid. No change to the way property taxes are distributed should be considered until those “ultimate recipients” of the funds are consulted. The County needs to address the Teeter Plan problems and their tax collection processes, not shift the “volatility” to schools and special districts.

Apparently, the Auditor’s initial concern came from an inadequate Teeter reserve this year, meaning that the County would have to pay out the Teeter obligations at 100% of assessed value to Schools and Special Districts resulting in a loss of interest income due to the gap between Teeter payments and late or delinquent tax payments. 

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