(The following is the first in a two-part series on the McKinleyville Community Services District candidate forum. – Ed.)
Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – Incorporation, taxes, climate change, parks and policing were among the topics discussed in a recent forum for candidates running for three open seats on the McKinleyville Community Services District Board of Directors.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the League of Women Voters of Humboldt County forum, recorded on Sept. 22, is how much the candidates agree with each other.
All of the participants praised how the district is run and said they wanted the MCSD to stay the course.
Candidates Scott Binder, Greg Orsini and William McBroome are vying for two four-year seats on the board. Those seats are now held by John Corbett and Mary Burke, who decided not to run for re-election.
Joellen Clark-Peterson, Wesley Martin and Jimmy Vance are competing for a single two-year seat on the board, now held by Shel Barsanti, who also opted not to run.
Martin and Vance did not participate in the forum.
Judy Bennett of the League of Women Voters questioned the candidates, asking them their views on increasing taxes to maintain the town’s parks.
Clark-Peterson said that before raising taxes, the district should try to increase revenues by renting out its commercial kitchens and offering adult learning classes.
“It may come to asking the community if it’s worth it to you to raise the tax,” said Clark-Peterson, the former director of the Arcata Chamber of Commerce.
“Parks are a wonderful place and the parks really do make the community, and if we can’t take care of what we’ve got, we need to figure something else,” McBroome said, noting that any tax increase would be up to the voters.
Binder, who is the vice chair of the McKinleyville Recreation Advisory Committee, pointed out that residents approved Measure B, a tax which funds recreation.
“Nobody likes taxes, and I don’t like taxes,” Binder said. “Measure B is a good thing to have and I’m glad it’s renewed and we’re working the best we can with that on the parks and rec committee.”
Binder said the committee is working to raise awareness of MCSD facilities that are available for rent.
Orsini, who retired in July as the district’s general manager, also said that facility rentals and new programs would help raise revenues.
“I’d like to give our staff kudos for their ability to balance the budget every year with dwindling resources and increased expenses that are related to the increase in minimum wage,” Orsini said.
As a last resort, the district may need to increase taxes, but that remains to be seen, Orsini said.
McKinleyville is the largest unincorporated community in Humboldt County, with a population of nearly 17,000. Bennett asked the candidates for their views in incorporation.
Clark-Peterson said that the incorporation process is something that would be handled by the Humboldt County Local Agency Formation Commission, not the MCSD.
“This is not a district decision,” said Clark-Peterson, who added that the MCSD should have a seat at the table during incorporation discussions. She said she does not have a position on incorporation.
Binder had a similar answer. “I don’t have a position on incorporation because we don’t have the information to make a logical decision right now,” Binder said. “We don’t know whether we can support ourselves or not.”
Binder mentioned the effort by Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone to gather information about county expenses in McKinleyville, saying that this is the first step in the process.
“It all comes down to the dollar sign,” Binder said.
McBroome agreed, saying that incorporation is a financial decision.
“As far as my take on incorporation, I don’t know if it pens out at this point, but I’m not a financial specialist, so we have to see what the professionals say and we’ll take it from there, and ultimately it does go to the people. It lives or dies with them,” McBroome said.
Orsini pointed out that McKinleyville and Arcata are similar in size. The MCSD has an annual budget of about $12 million, while the City of Arcata has an annual budget of about $40 million. McKinleyville would need to figure out how to make up that difference, he said.
Some people are interested in incorporation because they want McKinleyville to have planning powers, Orsini said.
“McKinleyville could get planning powers without incorporating,” Orsini said.
The town could have a regional planning commission created by the County of Humboldt, or a special district in charge of planning could be formed, Orsini said.
“If that’s the main thing people want, that might be easier to tackle than trying to figure out how to come up with $40 million to become a city,” Orsini said.
When asked what sort of improvements he would advocate, Orsini said he would like to expand trails and have river access from the Pialorsi property, which the district recently purchased. Most of the property is located east of the Hammond Trail north of the Hammond Trail Bridge.
Orsini said he would like to see the district recycle all of its treated wastewater by using it to irrigate its ranches. He also said he would advocate for a self-sustaining community forest.
“I think the biggest thing we’re going to see... is that we’ll be working on our infrastructure and all the mainlines, water and sewer. They’ll all be replaced in the next 75 years,” Orsini said.
Binder said he would like the board to be more accessible. Binder is well-known on social media for posting agendas and meeting announcements.
“People want to get excited about stuff that’s going on and there’s a lot of stuff that’s exciting that the district is doing that people don’t know about,” Binder said.
McBroome said he would like the district to continue doing what it’s doing.
“I think they’ve done a fantastic job and I think we need to just continue in a manner as they are,” McBroome said.
Clark-Peterson agreed. “It’s hard to think of things that the... MCSD needs to do differently. They are doing a great job on every level that’s been mentioned,” Clark-Peterson said.
The district, she said, should make sure that its services are reaching everyone and that there is “equal access.”
Clark-Peterson, who used do work or KMUD, also agreed with Binder about improving communication.
“I’m a journalist at heart, so I’m with you Scott. So I have ideas for ways to communicate that make it fun and appealing,” Clark-Peterson said.
(In the Oct. 7 edition, read about the candidates’ views on climate change, policing and more.)