Measure Z Issues Dominate County Forum

Measure Z and the public safety-related services it funds figured prominently in the county’s annual interactive budget hearing.

Sponsored by the county, the Humboldt County Office of Education and Access Humboldt, the innovative forum linked audiences at five locations through telecommunications technology and was streamed live and broadcast by Access Humboldt.

In considering the upcoming fiscal year’s budget, residents mostly wanted to know about spending and service enhancements related to Measure Z, the county’s half-cent public safety sales tax.

The 2016-17 fiscal year begins July 1 and in an opening presentation, Interim County Administrative Officer Cheryl Dillingham said Measure Z sales tax revenue is expected to generate $9.8 million. With the forwarding of unspent Measure Z money allocated for the current fiscal year, about $11 million is expected to be available.

Supervisor Rex Bohn was at South Bay Elementary School, where Kent Sawatsky asked if there’s a Measure Z “exit strategy” — a reference to the measure’s five-year time span.

Dillingham said that if Measure Z isn’t renewed by voters, “There definitely have to be some services that will need to be cut because I don’t see that we will have the resources to pick those up.”

Sawatsky had also asked about the new round of Measure Z funding requests, such as the County Administrative Office’s request for $1 million to help offset the county’s ever-ballooning debt on its California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) cost obligations.

Relating the request to her previous comments about potential service cuts, Dillingham said the motivation behind the request is to reduce the county’s PERS liability “so that we could have savings and could use that savings to pick up additional employees that could be transferred off of Measure Z [funding].”

From Fortuna City Hall, Supervisor Estelle Fennell noted that “there’s a little bit of trepidation when we talk about Measure Z” due to its expiration after five years. But Fennell said the tax is uniquely beneficial because “every penny that comes in is used in Humboldt County for safety issues.”

One Fortuna attendee questioned the public safety relevance of Measure Z spending but another predicted that if the service enhancements paid for with the current year’s Measure Z revenue continue, voters will enthusiastically support the measure’s renewal.

Fortuna Mayor Sue Long asked about the county’s joint resolution with the City of Eureka to support a consulting firm’s “housing first” plan to address homelessness, noting that Eureka’s approach seems to differ.

Supervisor Virginia Bass, who has been highly involved in the issue, responded to Long’s concerns when the forum switched to the Access Humboldt studio at Eureka High School.

She said the firm’s report is “a model for other parts of our community as well” and “it might be focused in Eureka now but it’s going to be spread throughout the county — that’s the whole purpose.”

Questions were also fielded via Twitter. One tweet described pay raises that supervisors approved for themselves as “nauseating.” Another asked about funding for underground utilities for Garberville’s Town Square. Dillingham said it’s covered through PG&E surcharges and the town square project is on a list of eligible recipients. But she added that the surcharge funding doesn’t completely cover costs and the county is “looking at ways to provide that local match” so that the undergrounding can proceed.

Other topics discussed during the forum included funding for the county’s library, plans to consolidate county departments and the county’s consideration of an excise tax on medical marijuana.

The Board of Supervisors will be presented with a proposed budget on June 7. On June 20, afternoon and early evening public hearings will be held on it and adoption is set for June 28.