Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Measure Z, Humboldt County’s public safety sales tax, will be up for voter renewal in the November election and if it succeeds, it will remain in effect unless voters choose to end it.
At its July 24 meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved the ballot language for renewal of Measure Z.
Voters approved Measure Z at a half-cent sales tax rate for a five-year period in 2014. And phone polling has shown that it has strong potential for re-approval.
A Measure Z renewal with a six-year sunset got 65 percent support in the polling. But the percentage was even higher for an indefinite re-approval.
That gained 74 percent support and is included in the ballot statement approved by supervisors. The ballot language also maintains the current tax rate and asks whether Measure Z should be renewed to “maintain essential services.”
The ballot statement names 911 emergency response, rural ambulance service, fire protection, 24-hour sheriff's patrols; and children's mental health and child abuse response services as being covered under Measure Z.
Also cited as essential are emergency communications systems and “repairing deteriorating roads.”
About $850,000 of Measure Z money will be spent on road improvements in the current fiscal year. “Measure Z has been extremely important to your road system,” Public Works Director Tom Mattson told supervisors.
It has also revived a school-based program carried out by the Arcata Police Department in collaboration with the Northern Humboldt Union School District.
Restored with Measure Z funding since October 2016, the program consists of a school resource officer and two juvenile diversion counselors who work in Arcata and McKinleyville schools. It continues through the 2018 to 2019 fiscal year with $353,367 of Measure Z funding.
Juvenile Diversion Counselor Cedric Aaron said that from the program’s restoration through July 10, 211 students have been served and the success rate has been 95 percent.
“Our goal is to decrease truancy and school drop-outs as well as children entering the criminal justice system,” he continued.
One of the “interventions” involved is drug and alcohol counseling. “We saw the need that the schools and families were asking for,” Aaron said, adding that 88 children have received the counseling.
Mental health services and referrals to county mental health programs are also included.
Juvenile Diversion Counselor Crystal Perez said she was an at-risk youth and went on to work in the county’s regional Juvenile Hall facility for seven years.
“So I got to witness a lot of the kids who were at low and moderate risk do that spiral down and get involved in gangs and drugs because they were entered into either Juvenile Hall or the probation system too early,” she continued. “We’ve definitely seen a lot of success – I know, for a fact, that we’ve saved lives and gotten many youths mental health services that they wouldn’t otherwise get.”
She added that the program has “given a respite to our law enforcement agencies” by reducing the need for repeat responses to situations involving at-risk youths. “This is where juvenile diversion can provide a higher level of care,” she said.
Measure Z has also provided fire departments with firefighting vehicles, equipment and safety gear.
Arcata Fire District Chief Justin McDonald, who is president of the Humboldt County Fire Chiefs Association, said the engines and gear “all come with an expiration date” and the association is creating a five-year strategic plan for future spending.
“We’re very appreciative and we’re taking a proactive approach to figuring out where that money can be spent – and have a plan,” he continued.
District Attorney Maggie Fleming said that Measure Z revenue has restored her office’s staffing levels to what they were 10 years ago.
She said in the ensuing years, the office lost nine positions, including two prosecutors and two investigators. With Measure Z, the frozen positions have been filled and additional positions include a prosecutor, an investigator and a victim-witness coordinator.
Measure Z funding has improved the county’s Child Abuse Services Team, she continued, and will allow for a similar unit dedicated to elder abuse response.
County Sheriff Billy Honsal wasn’t able to be at the meeting but Supervisor Rex Bohn said Measure Z has funded an additional Drug Task Force officer and sheriff’s deputy patrols in McKinleyville.
The ballot language states that Measure Z will bring in $12 million of revenue a year.
In addition to approving the ballot statement, supervisors introduced the ordinance that places it before voters. Final approval of the ordinance is set for this week’s supervisors meeting, on July 31.