Sunday, May 31, 2015

[Humboldt County] Supervisors to review $318M budget, $500K aviation loan

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
The proposed 2015-2016 fiscal year budget going before the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday shows the county will get a revenue boost from Measure Z revenue and property tax revenues, but also a larger deficit than anticipated earlier this year.
The county’s total proposed budget is estimated to be about $318 million, a 4 percent increase over last year, according to the staff report.
“This increase includes $8.9 million for Measure Z expenditures ... and the remainder is attributable to salary and benefit increases in Health and Human Services as health insurance and retirement continue to rise,” according to the staff report.
Revenues are projected to increase 5 percent compared to the current fiscal year, with an estimated $111 million coming into the county. However, state-mandated expenses as well as other one-time expenditures have increased the county’s structural deficit to $3 million rather than the $2.2 million estimated during the board’s third quarter budget review.
“This increase is necessary to fund a contribution to the General Reserve as previously approved by your Board, state mandated ongoing costs and the preservation of public safety services,” the staff report states.
Some of these larger costs include a $575,000 allocation to the Probation Department due to the department losing state and federal funding after changes to the Social Security Act.
“I can say that my general feeling is that we are going in the right direction,” 2nd District Supervisor and board Chairwoman Estelle Fennell said. “We have to make these kind of decisions now, but I think that that creates a foundation for a better-looking budget in the future.”
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said that he hopes some of the state-mandated expenses will eventually be picked up by the state.
 “We’re looking at getting some money back from the state with their increased budget windfall since they have a surplus,” he said.
Aviation Fund
The board is also turning its attention to the county’s Aviation Enterprise Fund, recently the subject of a Humboldt County grand jury report due to its negative fund balance and continuing deficit.
The Aviation Fund is expected to enter the next fiscal year on July 1 with an over $826,000 negative fund balance — a nearly $300,000 drop from the start of the fiscal year. The fund’s deficit is also expected to increase to $500,000 from about $325,000. The decline is due to a lack of flights in and out of the county as well as other factors such as the loss in fuel sales and fuel customers.
 “It’s accounted for differently in the budget because it is supposed to be self-sustaining, and it’s not,” Fennell said. “It isn’t sustainable and that is very problematic. I recognize that. Where we go from here is a big question.”
On Tuesday, the board will consider whether to approve a $500,000 loan from the Public Works Department’s motor pool fund to the Aviation Fund to balance the budget and maintain required staffing levels. The Aviation Division is part of the Public Works Department.
“The motor pool — with the lower fuel prices and some efficiencies that Public Works has used — has a surplus right now so we’re going to have to make a loan because of the deficit on the pretense of getting a new airline,” Bohn said.
Measure Z
The $8.9 million in expected revenue from the county’s half-percent sales tax Measure Z will also be a topic of discussion at the Tuesday meeting, but the board will not be making a final decision on how the funds will be spent until June 8.
The Measure Z Citizens’ Advisory Committee submitted its final funding recommendations to the board earlier this month, which include unfreezing positions at the sheriff’s office and district attorney’s office, probation department hires, Willow Creek ambulance services and funding for the Eureka Police Department’s Mobile Intervention and Services Team. The tax measure was promoted to the voters as a boost to public safety services.
Bohn said the committee, after sorting through nearly 50 applications, “followed really well with what the public expected and asked for.”
May 29, 2015
Eureka Times-Standard
By Will Houston

Mendocino County children “at risk,” grand jury finds

Describing the agency charged with protecting local children as caring but understaffed, the Mendocino County grand jury declared in a recent report that there is “a disaster waiting to happen” in regard to the Family and Children’s Services Agency.
Formerly known as Child Protective Services, FCS is tasked with serving children at risk of being abused or neglected, and receives funding from state and federal programs.
According to the grand jury, the county’s FCS “is one of the lowest-scoring child protective services agencies in the state,” and that all indications point to “understaffing as the main culprit.
“In spite of a dedicated, caring and hard-working staff, the agency appears to be falling further behind,” the report titled “Family and Children’s Services: Children at Risk” states. “The understaffing has many causes: non-competitive compensation, work overload, poor management and low morale. Senior management is aware of the issues and their consequences, but has failed to address them.”
The grand jury began investigating the agency after receiving complaints about the agency’s ability to provide “timely and appropriate services to children at risk,” alleging that the “services are not provided in a timely manner, or not provided at all, due to staff shortages and management decisions.”
To explore the issue, the grand jury interviewed 15 members of staff and management, and both current and former employees of the county’s Health and Human Services Agency.
It found that “more than one-third of the allocated social work positions are unfilled,” and many of the others are filled by employees who do not have the proper “educational or experience requirements.”
This lack of staff has “translated into work overload and a significant number of late or unscreened referrals, which may not be processed within the guidelines FCS uses.”
In addition, the grand jury notes that the agency’s workload is only increasing, with the average number of allegations of child abuse “increasing by more than 12 percent in the last six years.”
The grand jury notes that after salaries were cut by 10 percent in 2011, “there was an exodus of experienced staff.” Then a “reorganization” of the agency in 2013 caused “controversy among the staff and supervisors, significantly decreasing morale.” The level of morale was described as “almost malignant.”
The grand jury recommends that:
     FCS management bring to the attention of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors the ranking of the county with respect to all measures of its agency’s performance with respect to the rest of the state, which is “at the bottom for two of the three state measures for job performance.”
     Management bring to the MCBOS the consequences of late investigations and late court reports.
     That the Health and Human Services agency report to the MCBOS that the county “is not in compliance with the staffing requirements” for the agency, and that the county “institute an active, continuous and well-publicized effort to recruit qualified staff.”
     And that the MCBOS supply the Health and Human Services “with the resources necessary to provide adequate services to the children of Mendocino County.
Responses are required by the Mendocino County CEO, as well as the directors of the county’s Health and Human Services agency and its Human Resources department.
May 30, 2015
Ukiah Daily Journal
By Ukiah Daily Journal Staff

Saturday, May 30, 2015

[San Mateo County] LAFCo report recommends dissolving Harbor District

Blog note: This article references a 2013-14 San Mateo County Grand jury report.
The San Mateo Local Agency Formation Commission circulated a municipal service review on Friday that recommended the dissolution of the San Mateo Harbor District. LAFCO proposes that San Mateo County serve as the successor agency.
The Harbor District operates Pillar Point Harbor in Princeton and Oyster Point Marina in South San Francisco. It was originally formed in 1933 to build a harbor at Redwood City, which never came to fruition. And since the implementation of Proposition 13 in 1978, the Harbor District has received a share of the countywide 1 percent property tax, which the recent report estimated at $5.5 million in the current fiscal year.
The study comes at a critical time for the troubled Harbor District. It follows a scathing civil grand jury report in 2014, staff resignations and a reorganization of the Harbor Commission this week.
LAFCo or the Harbor District itself could formally initiate dissolution. There’s also the option for the Harbor Commission, county or any city, district or school district sharing territory in the county to file a resolution of application to dissolve. A petition of 10 percent of the eligible voters in the county could also begin the dissolution process, although this would require 25 percent of countywide voters to submit protests to cause an election, according to the report.
If the Harbor District initiates dissolution, there is no opportunity for protest or election. If LAFCo initiates, there will be a protest hearing and a protest that gains 10 percent of the eligible voters in the county would cause an election. If an application to dissolve the Harbor District comes from any other agency, a protest hearing would be held and an election would be called only if 25 percent of the county’s registered voters submit written protest.
LAFCo has asked that affected agencies, residents, property owners or others send comments by June 26 to Executive Officer Martha Poyatos by email at or by fax at (650) 363-4849. Comments and recommended determinations will be presented at the San Mateo County LAFCo Commission meeting at 1:30 p.m. on July 15 at the Board of Supervisors Chambers, 400 County Center, Redwood City.
May 29, 2015
Half Moon Bay Review
By Esther Hahn

Napa grand jury suggests more comprehensive winery audits

Blog note: We posted this article on May 29 when it appeared in the Napa Valley Register. We post it again, because it has been published by at least three other newspapers outside Napa County: this posting from The Washington Times (3,000 miles away), The San Luis Obispo Tribune, and The Long Beach Press-Telegram). That merits special recognition.
NAPA, Calif. (AP) - With about 350 active wineries in Napa County, a grand jury is ordering officials to go farther than the county’s current policy of auditing 20 wineries at random in one of the world’s top wine regions.
A new Napa County grand jury report says the small number of wineries checked out combined with audits of a limited scope may not give a full picture of whether the businesses are complying with regulations, including one requiring them to get at least three-quarters of their grapes from Napa County, the Napa Valley Register reported ( ).
The county government has yet to come up with its response to the report, Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said Tuesday.
The grand jury suggested Napa County instead audit each winery every five years, or at another interval approved by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. The grand jury also recommended the county reveal the identities of wineries that fail to receive a clean audit.
The county winery audits looks at issues including whether wineries are following their permitted requirements on wine production and visitor limits. Inspectors also look at whether those wineries required to obtain at least 75 percent of their grapes from Napa County are actually doing so. Last year, only one of the 20 wineries surveyed fell short on the 75 percent threshold.
Napa County Supervisor Mark Luce earlier this year suggested a “wall of shame” for those wineries that fail to meet county standards. “I think that’s what people really care about - their reputations,” Luce said then.
Overall, up to 40 percent of the wineries in the annual audits between 2011 and 2013 fell short on at least one standard in their county use-permit, the grand jury report said.
Information from: The Napa Valley Register,
May 29, 2015
The Washington Times
By Associated Press