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County Notes: Behind The Curve

A large and uncharacteristically loud contingent of County employees showed up at the Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, June 20 to demand some kind of pay raise or at least a partial cost of living increase. The Board responded with their standard answer these days: There’s no money.

After one of the employees remarked that increasing health insurance contributions from employees was a de facto pay cut, Supervisor Dan Gjerde irritated the employees even further by replying: “County employees are using the plan as a group more aggressively than city employees and therefore our plan is 25% more expensive. The only way the County can cut the cost of the healthcare plan is with the support of the employee bargaining groups to work with us to reduce the cost of the plan. So it’s back in your court.”

The room erupted in boos, groans and grumbles. Supervisor/Chair Glenn McGourty tried to quiet the employees by saying, “OK. Come on. This isn’t the Jerry Springer Show.”

Employees Union President Julie Beardsley got a big round of applause and approving whoops when she told the Board, “If you don’t want to lead, get out of the way. You are bargaining in bad faith. It’s good that there’s no expensive lawyer [negotiating with the employee reps this year], but you have given no direction to your bargaining team.” She then marched to Board Clerk’s desk and grandly handed a sheaf of unfair labor practice complaints that she said had been filed with the state.

A staffer from Public Health wanted to know what the County’s improvement plan was for adding existing but unassessed parcels to the tax rolls and collecting both current and back taxes. He got no response and no plan was requested from staff.

There was some rambling discussion about the County’s failure to collect millions of dollars in current and back taxes due. The discussion wasn’t about how to do that, or how to staff such an effort, just bemoaning the fact that tax collection is far behind. 

Some of the buildings they say need to be added to the tax rolls are presumed to be abandoned pot grow sites which are not likely to generate much revenue, ever, even if added to the tax rolls.

Supervisor Williams didn’t ask for a plan, but at least he asked that staff set a very modest goal of reducing the estimated 30% of County properties not on the tax rolls to 15% within two years and that they provide a monthly report on the status of tax collection efforts. CEO Darcie Antle said she would do that.

But Official Mendocino County has a perfect record of not reporting on anything on a monthly basis — especially reports with actual statistics which might portray senior staff in a negative light. No one expressed any skepticism, not even the County employees’ union reps who have started to do that lately.

So far Ms. Shattuck is the only candidate to show a detailed interest in the County’s budget. She told the Board that Mendo hasn’t done a tax auction of tax defaulted properties since 2019 “and one is not planned for this year either.” Shattuck added, “I tried to get a report [of tax defaulted properties] and was told there isn’t one and to check back in a couple of months.”

Shattuck also noted “the fact that the Board and the CEO’s office made no mention of taking a pay reduction themselves while the County continues to be underpaid and understaffed. … And $150k was given to Visit Mendocino while employees got nothing! What kind of message does that send to those who keep this county running?”

Shattuck wasn’t done: “Considering that this coming year’s budget was balanced using one time funds which is not sustainable and the Board did not consider any cuts for themselves, I will, if elected, take a 50% reduction in the Supervisors salary of $100,002.78 before retirement and benefits to immediately help the County with its budget crisis. This supervisor’s seat is not about money or prestige for me. It’s our County, the people’s home.”

The room full of employees erupted in applause.

One of Shattuck’s opponents in the First District to replace McGourty is Adam Gaska of Redwood Valley. Gaska appeared at the Tuesday Board meeting to offer yet another budget balancing idea. Gaska said that he knew of one person in Mendocino County who owes the County about $650k in back taxes. “It all traces back to one person through multiple entities,” said Gaska, adding that he didn’t want to name names, but, “how does someone get this far in arrears? How much in total does he owe the County? At what point does the County put pressure on these people to pay?”

Later in the meeting, Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector Chamise Cubbison replied that she was aware of the situation Gaska was talking about and it wasn’t as simple as Gaska made it sound. She said that the taxes in question are not really “late,” and that efforts were being made to collect those taxes. 

But the point Gaska was trying to make — how does someone get this far in arrears? — is still valid. The Supervisors have allocated half a mil for additional appraisers in the Assessor’s office and they claim to be prioritizing “revenue generating” positions such as those in the Tax Collector’s office. But nobody asked for the “improvement plan” that one of the employees called for. Mendo is big on wonkish generalizations such as those in their wasteful $130k “strategic plan,” but when it comes to dealing with specific issues, their planning is invisible.

After a couple dozen more employees presented their various dire financial situations and complaints without any substantive response, they all filed out chanting, “No contract — no peace” over and over.

Williams Wants To Lay More People Off — From Certain Departments

Later in the day, Supervisor Williams glibly declared that, even though most departments are already short staffed, layoffs were the only way to balance the budget for next fiscal year (July 2024-June 2025), apparently expecting that the County won’t collect much of those overdue taxes or add many properties to the tax rolls. “We can’t even pay the people we have on staff today,” claimed Williams. “We’re going to have to downsize as it is just to break even. And paying a COLA would mean you’d have to cut even more.” 

The Board, including Williams, has already said they will not cut law enforcement (presumably Sheriff, DA and Probation) which make up more than half of the General Fund funded positions. Nor do they want to cut “revenue generating” positions. Also, they have shown no inclination to cut their own budget or staffing (i.e., the fully staffed Executive Office or the Supervisors themselves) or the fully-staffed County Counsel’s office. That doesn’t leave many offices left to cut which means those remaining offices would have to be cut much more, proportionately, if Williams has his way. “I’m in the camp that says it’s better to have a strong core staff that pays market wages,” added Williams, “that’s in our strategic plan.” 

So Williams wants to raise the wages of the already highly paid staffers who survive his layoffs, meaning even more layoffs in the already depleted General Fund office staffs like Planning and Building, Environmental Health, Facilities & Grounds, Fleet Maintenance, Transportation and Roads… “There’s never a convenient time to do it,” continued Williams. “I would rather take the pain now and make that transition and pay people enough to survive in our County.”

None of Williams’ colleagues commented on this drastic and ill-conceived idea which would hollow out many departments that do the actual work of the County, and nobody asked what the impact would be on productivity, workloads, backlogs, or outside contracting. Neither Williams nor his colleagues mentioned other more humane cost saving or revenue generating ideas. 

Later in the afternoon, after Sheriff Matt Kendall and his staff presented his new on-line crime statistics and mapping software system, Supervisor McGourty, tried —unsuccessfully — to make a little joke: “It’s nice to get something positive from you, Matt.” Nobody but McGourty laughed.

Soon after that, McGourty cracked another “joke” in the direction of Supervisor Williams who had proposed a review and reform of the County’s civil service commission and hiring practices (described last week): “If we didn’t have you putting on agenda items,” said McGourty, “there wouldn’t be much to our meetings.”

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