Measure Z Covers $1 Million for Road Repairs

Humboldt County’s midyear budget adjustments include channeling $1 million into road repairs and $533,000 into expansion of rural substance abuse, child welfare and mental health services.

At its Feb. 9 meeting, the Board of Supervisors considered and took actions on recommendations related to the county’s budget for this year and next.

Measure Z, the county’s public safety sales tax, is under-budget by $2.5 million in the current fiscal year and that allowed the use of $1 million of its funds for road repairs and maintenance.

It also allowed funding for the various social services, including substance abuse treatment. Department of Health and Human Services Director Connie Beck said substance abuse and mental health services are particularly underfunded now.

Supervisors also approved using about $113,000 in unspent Measure Z funding on the North Coast Substance Abuse Council’s addition of five additional residential drug treatment beds.

The county is also struggling to keep up with maintenance of its roads. A $200 million backlog of needed road work is steadily growing, and Public Works Director Tom Mattson said he could “easily spend $1 million” before the end of the year.

Before supervisors approved that amount of Measure Z funding for road work, Mattson said the most pressing need is replacing culverts challenged by an El Niño-influenced winter.

“Unfortunately, we have a real winter and that means we’ve got some severe damage that we have to deal with, we can’t just take all of our money and try to spend it to keep our good roads good because we are losing roads,” he continued.

Mattson said there’s “a huge number of culverts” that need immediate replacement.

Culvert failure triggered the recent closure of Redwood Drive near Redway and Mattson said there are similarly “severe issues” in the Mattole Valley, Wilder Ridge and Shelter Cove.

But he added that “culverts are bad everywhere in the county” and it doesn’t make sense to resurface roads before replacing their degraded culverts.

There was discussion about whether the Measure Z spending fits the tax measure’s public safety mission. Supervisor Rex Bohn quoted from the measure’s statement to voters, which mentioned the need for road repairs and social services funding.

“It doesn’t do us any good for our rural fire departments if they can’t get to where they’re going safely,” said Bohn.

Supervisors voted to transfer the remainder of the unspent Measure Z funding for use in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Supervisors also made numerous budget adjustments, including adding a position to the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office for implementation of medical marijuana regulations. They also approved launching a pilot program for tracking and tracing medical marijuana.

Also up for consideration is a major departmental reorganization that would combine the county’s Department of Environmental Health, Planning and Building Department, Code Enforcement Unit and most public works functions into a new “development and resource management” department.

Another proposed reorganization would combine the Auditor-Controller’s Office with the Tax Assessor’s Office, an action that would need voter approval due to its effect on elected officials.

Transferring the county’s vehicle and facilities management out of the Department of Public Works into a General Services Department didn’t gain support from Mattson or supervisors, but no decisions were made on the proposed consolidations.

Instead, supervisors directed administrative staff to further develop the consolidation proposals and bring them back as a separate agenda item at a future meeting.