County eyes McKinleyville cost tracking for services it provides

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT –  For many years, McKinleyville residents have considered the prospect of turning their county-controlled community into an incorporated city and an effort to assess the costs of it is in a formative stage.

The idea of having the county track its services costs specifically for McKinleyville was discussed at the Feb. 19 Board of Supervisors meeting. 

Supervisor Steven Sungnome Madrone

Doing so was requested by Fifth District Supervisor Steven Madrone and while his proposal didn’t gain immediate approval, other supervisors were open to it. 

County administrative staff was directed to assess the level of time and effort it would take for various departments to track their McKinleyville-specific expenses. Once that’s known, supervisors will revisit Madrone’s request. 

Since community agencies also have service costs, Madrone agreed to discuss the expense-tracking with the McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD) and the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee. 

Explaining his motivation, Madrone said he gets “a lot of requests” from the area’s residents for “better information to be able to have an informed discussion about the future of their community.” 

Madrone emphasized that an intent to incorporate wouldn’t necessarily drive the data collection. “The issue of  incorporation comes up every few years in the community and the community does not know – nor does the county, based on its current record-keeping – none of us know if there’s more revenues than expenses or more expenses than revenues,”  he said. “And so this is designed to identify what are all the expenses within the MCSD boundaries.” 

Once received, the financial data would allow the county and the community to have “informed discussions about what that information means,” Madrone continued. “Does it mean the community can incorporate or not?” 

Though Madrone described the proposal as “a very logical way to proceed,” other supervisors questioned how comprehensive expense tallies would be calculated. 

Supervisor Virginia Bass said agencies like the Arcata Fire Protection District would also have to do the tracking. 

She added that even annexation is “a really bad proposition for cities right now” and she’s not sure if what Madrone proposes is “the type of research to do.” 

Madrone acknowledged California’s revenue neutrality law, which requires reviews of the financial impacts of incorporation on counties. 

Under the law, counties can make revenue restoration demands on newly-formed cities, which critics of the law have derisively described as “alimony payments.” 

Saying that the county’s expenses are “a significant piece” of understanding McKinleyville’s scope of service obligations, Madrone reiterated the need to tally them. 

“Yes, there are other pieces and yes, sometimes many barriers are out there – but they can be changed and fixed, that’s the legislative process,” Madrone said. 

He envisions gaining the information and convening a forum in about a year where officials from similarly-sized incorporated cities, county officials and those from McKinleyville’s agencies would be involved.

“I’ve been looking into this for a long time, talking to many people,” Madrone said. “It’s what the community wants – they want this information.” 

After further discussion where doubts about the scale of the effort were aired, Madrone thanked supervisors for their feedback and agreed on the staged approach. 

The County Administrative Office will outline what it will take to “come up with cost estimates for McKinleyville.” 

“I’m confident that the departments can come up with estimates and can qualify those estimates as to how accurate they are and what range they run in,” said Supervisor Mike Wilson. “I’m looking forward to seeing how this moves forward.”



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