Just as we warned…
Anyone who watches gangster movies is familiar with that stereotypical line usually delivered in a heavy Brooklyn accent where the mob boss adjusts his tie, twists his neck, shakes his head, and then indirectly but obviously threatens to do harm by saying something like, “Boy, that's a nice car ya got there, Joey. Be a shame if somethin’ happened to it. You know? Very unfortunate. You don't want that to happen, do you, Joey? We sure wouldn't want anything happen to that beautiful machine. I know how much you like it.”
Compare that with this comment from Supervisor Ted Williams on Tuesday: “I don't think we are going to reach bankruptcy. I think we are probably going to make the necessary cuts. But one aspect of this that makes me nervous— the board committed to the public when they passed the transient occupancy tax on campgrounds for fire and Measure P for fire that that money would always be allocated to fire per the voter-supported advisory. If we were to someday find ourselves insolvent and entering bankruptcy the funds would be pulled back to cover County core services. It would no longer go to fire. We wouldn't have the option to allocate it that way. I think it may be appropriate for us to suggest to the public and the fire community that they re-run those as a voter initiative so that they can focus on a 50% plus one and lock it in as a special tax and remove the risk. I don't think this will be where we go. But I would feel really bad if it did happen. And I think there's a way to prevent it.”
Supervisor Glenn McGourty asked County Counsel Christian Curtis what he thought.
“It's for the voters to decide,” replied Curtis. Meaning that the Board can grab as much of the Measure P money they want whenever they want it. If the public or the cash-strapped local fire services don’t like that, it’s up to the local fire services and the voters to “re-run” the entire signature gathering, promotion and ballot qualification exercise to stop the Board from going back on their promise and grabbing the money. Never mind that most people would consider “fire services” to be a core function of the County.
McGourty: “In terms of us initiating something like that?…”
Curtis: “I don't know that you would be able to initiate anything like that. That would have to be the voters…”
McGourty: “The voters.”
Curtis: “It's not something the board would be able to do today. It's not something staff would be able to spend resources on.”
* * *
Still No Departmental Budget Reports.
Next Tuesday’s quarterly budget presentation from CEO Darcy Antle opens with: “Fiscal Year (FY) 2023-24’s budget is relying on over $7 million in one-time funding and is not a sustainable approach to any future budgeting for the County. The Executive Office continues to work with department heads and elected officials to seek ways to reduce waste, improve efficiency, and reduce costs.”
Yet again, no mention of ongoing assessment updates, no mention of adding untaxed parcels and properties to the tax rolls, nothing about capturing property improvement assessments, nothing about collecting delinquent taxes due and increasing revenue. This is typical of the Low Gap Mindset these days: insist that cuts must be made without mentioning major revenue shortfalls due to ongoing neglect — and one of the main reasons the Good Ship Mendo is drifting aimlessly toward some very rocky shoals .
In fact, nowhere in Ms. Antle’s entire collection of reports and presentations is tax collection, revenue enhancement, or assessment backlog and catch up mentioned.
Later in the Presentation: “Current Departmental Projections Estimate the County will be Approximately $1 million Over Budget in FY 2023-24, largely in Facilities and Public Safety Salaries.”
“Facilities”? What facilities? What costs? Nothing. Not a word.
Were public safety salaries mysteriously increased without board approval? Or are they referring to overtime costs? We’re not told. Nobody seems to care.
In the body of CEO Antle’s quarterly report there’s another “executive summary” which provides a little more info.
“The final carryforward/fund balance amount from FY 2022-23, to be used as one-time expenditures, is unknown at this time. … [Fiscal Year 2022-23 ended in June of 2023, going on five months ago now.] “The Executive Office Fiscal Team [sic] relies on departments to provide accurate quarterly budget information, and the Auditor-Controller’s Office for revenue estimates, month-end and year-end closings, which are the basis of developing the County’s budget. The Fiscal Team [sic] is aware of numerous factors that can affect this preliminary estimate of the year-end outcome, including unanticipated expenses, under-realized or over-realized revenues, vacancy factors, as well as other unforeseen circumstances. The Executive Office continues to provide budget trainings, with the goal to improve the estimation of future expenditures and revenues through increased awareness and knowledge of county fiscal staff. The County will continue to experience increases in operating costs, with the biggest impacts expected to be salary and benefit-related costs and infrastructure.”
Their “goal” is “training” and “awareness.” Not improving the financial picture. Pathetic.
Despite their belated acknowledgement that “The Executive Office Fiscal Team relies on departments to provide accurate quarterly budget information,” there’s nothing in any of the presentations about departmental budget status.
Your ordinary PTA Board meeting does a better job of managing its finances. Yet this is one of California’s 58 official Counties with hundreds of millions of dollars annually mismanaged.
* * *
Much of Tuesday morning’s board discussion concerned the creation of a theoretical countywide “water resources team” based on a proposal by another consultant which involved a preposterous organizational chart which Supervisor Haschak cautiously described as “nice but not realistic.”
The Board, bedazzled by the consultant’s fancy charts and diagrams, liked the idea, but balked at funding it because:
Supervisor Ted Williams: “We are teetering on the brink of insolvency.”
Supervisor John Haschak: “We don’t have any money and the future doesn’t look very good either.”
Supervisor Glenn McGourty: “Good plan, bad timing.”
CEO Darcy Antle: “I do not believe your financial situation will improve in two years. …I am extremely worried about the financial viability of the County.”
Supervisors Dan Gjerde and Maureen Mulheren agreed that there was no money for a water resources team, but declined to add to the gloomy remarks.
Despite all the alleged financial gloom, as usual, nobody asked what was being done to collect taxes due, be they unassessed parcels/properties, underassessed property improvements, or outright tax delinquency.
Meeting after meeting this fundamental function goes unaddressed as the collection backlog increases and the possibility of collecting on the older receivables declines.
Eventually, the Board tabled the consultant’s unworkable fantasy, claiming again they didn’t have any money for it. Too bad nobody brought that up sooner. Oh well.
* * *
County Assessor-Recorder-Clerk Katrina Bartolomie gave a brief oral presentation describing her office’s recent assessment activity, saying that tens of millions worth of supplemental assessments have been processed. But, she cautioned, much of it has not been “pro-rated” so that only a portion of the first year of a new owner’s assessment might produce revenue for the County. In addition, there’s a long lag between a new assessment and actual revenue coming in. Not to mention that the County only gets 30% of property taxes in the first place, after schools and special districts get their cuts. The Assessor also did not mention anything about how she’s doing on the Board’s directive (“goal”) of getting maybe 30% of untaxed structures onto the tax rolls in less than two years.
* * *
Newly appointed Acting Auditor-Controller / Treasurer-Tax Collector Sara Pierce appeared during public expression (while the person she abruptly replaced, Chamise Cubbison, was in court facing dubious felony misappropriation charges). Pierce told the Board that she had come across some unreported accounts that, she said, seem legitimate, but that had not been previously reported to the outside auditor. Pierce said she was still trying to figure out what they were for. This premature implication that Ms. Cubbison was somehow responsible for allegedly unreported accounts seemed to be the main purpose of her presentation, even though Pierce acknowledged that there didn’t seem to be a problem and that she was still working on it. Later in the meeting, suspended Auditor Controller / Treasurer Tax Collector Chamise Cubbison’s attorney, Chris Andrian of Sonoma County, told the Board that these were ordinary accounts that the entire office new about and Pierce’s implication that there was something fishy about them was false.
* * *
Supes Break Open The Measure B Piggybank
After an exhaustive background presentation from Sheriff Kendall and his senior jail staff about the need to finance the ever-ballooning cost of the jail expansion project, recently renamed the “behavioral health wing,” with a strong boost from former Sheriff Tom Allman about how the jail is still the first place mental patients go, the Board decided to “borrow” about $7 million to cover the rest of the unfunded current estimated overrun — the jail expansion is now estimated to cost at least $44 million with $25 million from the state and $19 million (or more) from the County. The Board had previously approved borrowing $10 million (with interest, of course) to cover the earlier overrun estimate. The Board directed the CEO to come up with a plan to repay the Measure B funds with interest — someday.
But maybe this is just the best that Mendo can do. It was unlikely that they could staff both the new jail wing and the PHF while turning over more almost $30 million a year to Camille Schraeder’s staff-intensive local monopoly, plus whatever leftovers the Ford Street rehab center may get.