The SC Board of Supervisors Digs Under the Couch Cushions 052312
A Fringe On The Spot Repinion
The family got together Tuesday and spent the whole day going through the couch cushions and cutting allowances and trying to decide which of the family heirlooms to pawn to pay the bills for this coming year. In past years the family had gone from roasts to hamburger, from name brand macaroni and cheese to the Chinese stuff, and made all the other adjustments families can make. The five uncles scratched their heads and bickered, and by the time the meeting was finished, the Board had done everything it could without really doing anything.
Prelude to this meeting was a meeting a few weeks before when Board Chair Peter Huebner warned the board they would have to come to Tuesday’s meeting ready for work on the budget. More pointedly, Auditor Treasurer Tax Collector Van Maddox then told the board that what were needed were “institutional” and “deep structural” changes. That ain’t what happened yesterday.
At the start of the meeting ATTC Maddox presented the board with some budget numbers, and he explained two things. First, he’d already cut what fat he could. Second and more importantly, next year would be the same; they couldn’t just juggle stuff around and think they were done, they had to make serious, long term changes.
The board looked at the numbers: $669,000 in the hole for the coming year.
Director of Keeping the Ship Off the Rocks Tim Beals stepped up with a very comprehensive and carefully thought out list of measures the board could consider toward reducing the deficit. The Supes are smart enough to grab a good idea when they see it, and Beals’ document became the backbone of the meeting. Beals also spoke of long term, institutional change.
The meeting was a long one, too long for any reasonable person to endure, which is why the board chambers were packed at the start of the meeting, but by the end there were just a few diehards left, some so mentally numb from following the meeting they could hardly rise to leave.
The discussion contained some very special moments, including a 45 minute discussion over feral cats, mostly in Loyalton. Truckee has a no kill shelter; they rehabilitate cats and properly socialize them, and nip their little knackers and find them better homes than you and I grew up in. That kind of treatment doesn’t come cheap, they want a four-fold increase for that kind of service. Quincy will kill them for us at a quarter the price, and some in the audience suggested deputies should take the wild felines outside of town where they might be shot trying to escape. Others suggested the cats be neutered and returned to Loyalton to keep the rat population down. Still others suggested old ladies stop feeding feral cats. Sheriff John Evans didn’t want the kitties hurt, and neither did Supervisor Schlefstein. It was pointed out that feral cats are, by definition, wild, so maybe the Department of Fish and Game would come for them, provided the game wardens weren’t busy giving traffic tickets and shaking down hippies. None of it had much to do with the budget.
It emerged over the six hour meeting that the United States is going through a depression. The economy is in the dumper. It seemed like news to some.
Every department head reported reduced income and increased operating costs; Assessor Laura Marshall talked about declining income from taxes and declining solid waste fees from camp grounds. Transient Occupancy Tax, a solid measure of how well local tourist businesses are doing, are down, partly because of increased gas and reduced liquid capital for vacations, but partly because of the short summer last year.
The Board, using Tim Beals’ guide, began to pick away at the $669,000 debt.
The first big contribution came from Chief Probation Officer Jeff Bosworth. Probation received a one-time amount of $165,000 and the likelihood of half that or more each year. Bosworth explained to the board how he was able to free up $165,000 of general fund money by using the cash. Bosworth also discussed other ways Probation is saving money, and noted that he’s reduced the size of probation every year since he arrived in 2009. Bosworth demonstrated pretty convincingly that he knows his department, and they are saving money.
Sheriff John Evans agreed not to hire a deputy to specifically serve Verdi. The Sheriff’s office does serve Verdi, but there isn’t a resident deputy. The CHP and Washoe County Sheriff have a mutual aid agreement, but the County can’t flip their responsibilities to those agencies. Verdi will still be covered, but not as completely as it was.
The Board discussed a dozen or so ideas. Some, like taking money from county parks, were very unpopular with the Board. Others, like combining the Service Areas, would take time and it isn’t clear how much money would be saved or sent to the General Fund. There was a discussion of closing the county jail. The Board left money intended to chip seal the airport. They appropriated some grant money from a funder who no longer exists. After considering the issue it was determined the county could use that as it wished. The grant had been for the fire safe council when it was still part of the county. The Board earmarked some Title III funds for the council instead.
It was then suggested that the county might rent beds in the jail instead of closing it. During a break someone in the jail business gave the opinion that the jail doesn’t have an exercise yard, no law library, none of the necessary things of a modern jail; no one would put their prisoners there but us.
The Board went through departments, sweeping whatever money they could find into the general fund. Money department heads had horded for their departments’ needs were swept, but each time the Board was cautioned that eventually things would come due, and the money would have to be found.
The Chambers of Commerce were discussed. Jointly they receive $52,000; the board reduced it to $40,000 and insisted on cooperation over the chamber issue.
The Board considered raising the Transient Occupancy Tax, but reasoned it would be counter-productive.
It was noted that the California Department of Fish and Game refuses to pay property tax as it should, and as was promised. The state has essentially told the counties to go to hell.
Then the Board came to the “Loyalton” portion of Tim Beals’ list. There are all kinds of services which Loyalton doesn’t pay for, but should. Flood control administration is a big one, the new flood maps change the requirements for Loyalton and they need someone dedicated to the process. Animal control costs would be greatly reduced if Loyalton took care of its own calls. The city persists in using county services without paying. No one said it, but Loyalton can’t pay, it’s as broke as the county and the state. In the end, though, the Board put its collective foot down: someone will talk to Loyalton about it.
The Board discussed retirement incentives, did not discuss a pay cut across the board. The problem is that some people, most HHS staff for example, get paid from dedicated funds. There is no benefit to making them take a pay cut, except that general fund employees would feel better about it. Rather than tackle the issue, the Board moved on.
Chipping away at the $669,000; I didn't keep track, these are Don Russell's notes, which he foolishly left out when he went to "freshen up".
Steadily the Board chipped away at the $669,000, a nickel here, a dime there. Charge more for services from county departments, except that people don’t have money either, and they’ll simply start doing things without county involvement.
Solid waste was a big item.
Should the county go after people who use the dump and shouldn’t? What will happen, will the old geezer at the
transfer station have to try to arrest illegal dump users? How would you get money from them? There is an “erosion” of fees to solid waste
just as there is to every other department, and for the same reason: the
economy is in the dumper. Costs of keeping the landfill open have gone up and costs to close the landfill have gone up. The board might register a promise to pay instead of keeping money in reserve, but the day will come and they'll have to pay and where will they get the money?
The Board simply could not think of any other way to make
money. Don Russell, curmudgeon of the
Mountain Messenger, suggested they simply tell the state to piss off, we don’t
have the money. The state, though, is
like a Mafia boss; don’t pay and they’ll break your legs.
Your Fringe Editor mentioned the thousands of pounds of marijuana seized last year, with a projected medical dispensary value of millions of dollars. The Board didn’t feel like testing the feds on the issue, and so they remain broke.
Near the end of the meeting, after all but a few tens of thousands of dollars in debt had been accounted for, the Board was tuckered out, but felt pretty good about “dealing” with the debt.
But ATTC Van Maddox was brutally honest with the Board. He pointed out that next year there would be a $750,000 deficit, if not higher, and the Board had used all the reserves the county had to pay off this year, and had done almost nothing long term. “We’ve kicked the can down the road like Sacramento… we have a true structural problem…we haven’t done shit.”
This is a good board, peopled with good people, but people who lack the will to reduce wages, reduce services, and make long term changes. The crappy economy isn’t going to go away, if anything it will likely get worse for a while. The Board, still trying to please everyone and save the feral kitties, simply postponed the inevitable, and in the meantime squandered what liquid capital the County did have.
There are hard times ahead, and it remains to be seen if 3000 people is enough to constitute a county in a state of 38,000,000 people. Likely, a year or two down the road will see the county in dire straits.
This reporter came away with some strong impressions. I feel that ATTC Van Maddox and Director Tim Beals have a more clear idea of the texture of the crisis than the Board does. I think most of the department heads are capable, and Laura Marshall and Jeff Bosworth demonstrated the kind of knowledge and fortitude the county needs. Now, the Board just needs to get together, pull their pants up and piss some people off. Lower wages, more furlough time, fewer services and higher fees for those services. The sacred cows are going to have to find their way to the freezer.
Good luck, we’re going to need it.
Money, get away
Get a good job with good pay and you're okay
Money, it's a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream
Think I'll buy me a football team
Money, get back
I'm all right Jack keep your hands off of my stack
Money, it's a hit
Don't give me that do goody good bullshit
I'm in the high-fidelity first class traveling set
And I think I need a Lear jet
Money, it's a crime
Share it fairly but don't take a slice of my pie
Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a raise it's no surprise
That they're giving none away
Away, away, way
Away, away, away