Supes Make New Measure Z Picks

In reviewing requests for Measure Z public safety tax revenue, Humboldt County supervisors have reduced the amounts of some of the bigger asks to allow for funding others.

At its May 3 meeting, the Board of Supervisors considered $12.7 million of new Measure Z funding requests. There will be an estimated $6.5 million of Measure Z sales tax revenue available for requests in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Firefighting services are among the highly-prioritized Measure Z funding targets. The county’s Fire Chiefs’ Association has requested $2.2 million for used fire engines, protective equipment, metal building kits and planning the formation of new fire districts and expansion of existing ones.

Supervisor Estelle Fennell highlighted the importance of the district planning effort, saying that the county has “some pretty tricky work ahead of us to guarantee fire coverage.”

If volunteer fire departments don’t work on the annexations and new district formations, she continued, “We might have to create a county services area and that will cost a whole lot more.”

But Fennell and other supervisors also supported a separate Measure Z funding request for firefighting coverage in areas that aren’t served by a district, such as the Route 299 corridor.

Supervisors agreed that another separate request, for firefighting services at the county’s main airport, also needs to be funded.

The board decided to redirect the $400,000 needed to fund those two items from the Fire Chiefs’ Association’s request, reducing it to $1.8 million.

Another request that was extensively discussed comes from the Public Defender’s Office, which is asking for almost $630,000 to boost its staffing levels in response to the Measure Z-funded staffing increases for law enforcement departments.

Though some supervisors had doubts about using Measure Z money for that, Board Chair Mark Lovelace said that at least part of the request should be supported so that the office’s current level of staffing can be maintained.

“Public safety depends upon a functioning criminal justice system,” he continued. “And frankly, there’s no reason for prosecution if you’re not going to have an adequate defense.”

Having public defense ensures that “we’re actually providing public safety and not just arresting people who may or may not be guilty,” said Lovelace.

Supervisors agreed that $161,000 of the Public Defender’s request should be approved to maintain the office’s staffing.

The County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office is another top-priority funding item and a $1.2 million request for funding seven positions and overtime, four patrol vehicles and an armored vehicle was mostly supported by supervisors.

The armored rescue/recovery vehicle was the main item that supervisors questioned. Supervisor Rex Bohn emphasized that the Measure Z sales tax will have to be re-approved by voters in three years and he doubted that the vehicle would pass muster as an appropriate investment.

Supervisors also considered that there are other sources of funding for the vehicle.

But Sheriff Mike Downey said the vehicle would protect his deputies from high-powered gunfire and is the only officer safety-related item he’s asked for.

Undersheriff Billy Honsall told supervisors that out of an estimated 8,000 marijuana grows in the county, only about 50 are working on getting county permits under a new commercial medical marijuana ordinance.

“That means that the black market is being fueled extensively and organized crime is alive and well,” he said. “And with that, they don’t call us — they regulate their own form of justice.”

Honsall added that “it has become a very, very violent world out there” and “this is one piece of equipment that can ensure the safety of our personnel and the citizenry when we do have those incidents.”

Seeing that supervisors were still doubtful, Downey agreed to withdraw the vehicle from his request, reducing it by almost $300,000.

Other sizable requests included $2.5 million for repairing and maintaining county roads. Supervisors agreed to support $1.5 million of it.

The new round of projects brings the county’s total Measure Z spending to $11.75 million. That includes $5.2 million of previously-approved funding items that will be carried forward into the coming fiscal year’s budget.

The new Measure Z spending list will get definitive approval in late June, when the board approves the budget.