Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – The Board of Supervisors has approved several supplemental budget requests, including a $185,000 financial accounting software system and $150,000 for an American with Disabilities Act (ADA) assessment of county facilities.
The budget was firmed up at two public hearings on June 16, where county supervisors made decisions on departmental requests for additional funding.
Filling frozen positions in various county departments is highly desirable but the board is following a basic budget policy – ongoing expenses can’t be covered with one-time revenue.
So at the end of last week’s night-time budget hearing, supervisors unanimously voted to fund the accounting system and ADA assessment plus security cameras and a power back-up system for the county jail, and contributions to the budget’s depleted contingencies and general reserve accounts.
The contribution to the reserve account was proposed at $183,000 but Supervisor Estelle Fennell noted the need for maintenance of the Garberville and Fortuna veterans halls.
Her recommendation to reduce the reserve account contribution by $8,365 to cover the costs of deferred building maintenance and $2,000 for replacement of aging computers used by two supervisors was included in a unanimous vote approving the supplemental funding.
The contingencies account contribution is $50,000.
The county was able to fund the approximately $625,000 in additional requests due to various transfers and the emergence of state money for mandate reimbursement. That revenue isn’t ongoing, so supervisors followed staff advice and didn’t use it for ongoing expenses like filling vacant positions.
But during the public comment session of the afternoon budget hearing, Luke Brunner of the Garberville-based Wonderland Nursery cannabis clone dispensary said the county may soon be getting – and should plan for – a steady income from a new source.
“I think there is a high probability in California that we will see the beginning of a process of legal and legitimate cannabis money, entering in legal and legitimate ways, into our General Fund,” he said. “Perhaps some plans need to be made, as part of our general budgeting, on what we’re going to do with that money.”
Brunner suggested that once marijuana is legalized, Humboldt has the potential to become as much a cannabis tourist attraction as Napa is for its winemaking.
He added that Wonderland Nursery wants to raise the price of its clones from $8 to $9 and donate the price increase to the county and in five years, “a much better and rosier” budget scenario could be afoot due to marijuana legalization.
“We’ll fill our potholes with pot,” said Board Chairman Rex Bohn.
County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes confirmed that the county does accept donations.
Also during public comment, Bill Damiano, the head of the county’s Probation Department, said he hasn’t made a supplemental funding request in recognition of lack of money.
But his department has six frozen probation officer positions and he described the impacts of leaving them unfilled. “The advantage to having my officers out in the street is that we know the criminals we’re dealing with, we’ve assessed their risk to reoffend and we’ve identified the ones most likely to reoffend,” said Damiano. “And if we’re unable to provide them with supervision and correctional intervention, they will recidivate -- we can prevent crime by supporting probation staff.”
Representatives of the District Attorney’s Office said cuts have been made to allow funding for two deputy district attorney positions. The cuts target the office’s extra help budget, which pays for retired annuitants like former Deputy DA Max Cardoza and a paralegal employee.
Among the Sheriff’s Office’s supplemental funding requests is the filling of three deputy sheriff positions. Lack of patrol coverage, particularly in outlying areas, has been highlighted recently and there’s a public call for more deputies.
But Sheriff Mike Downey cautioned against describing his office’s funding as a priority because doing so gives people unrealistic expectations. “The only way to show that the sheriff’s function is on a high priority is to fund the positions I am asking for and to cut other departments – and I am not, by any means, advocating that,” he said.
But Bohn highlighted the importance of emergency response. “The ladder in your toolshed is a lot more important than the hammer if you’re on the second story and your house in on fire,” he said.
Of the Sheriff’s supplemental request, only the jail improvement items were approved by supervisors. But they have other plans for sheriff’s funding – the county will pursue a public safety tax measure for the November election ballot.
The coming year’s budget is $305 million, slightly up from the current year’s $303 million. There’s a General Fund deficit of $2.7 million, which is a slight improvement over last year’s $2.9 million General Fund deficit.
But Smith-Hanes has told supervisors that unless new revenue sources emerge, county service levels will decline.
The budget is set for adoption at the board’s July 1 meeting.