Wednesday, December 6, 2023

‘We Really Want to Assess the Financial Stability of the County at This Time’—CEO Antle on Mendo’s Budget Showdown

Darcie Antle [Photograph provided by the County of Mendocino]

The new fiscal year is off to a rocky start, with miscommunication about the health plan deficit, uncertainty about federal disaster reimbursements, and the county’s main labor union filing a complaint with the state in the midst of contract negotiations.

Last week, the Board of Supervisors agreed to ask the state controller for help with its books after Supervisor Ted Williams declared that the county was in a financial crisis. Chamise Cubbison, the newly elected Treasurer-Tax Collector/Auditor-Controller, wrote a letter to the board saying the discussion was full of misinformation, while retired Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Schapmire said the county is “absolutely not” in a financial crisis.

CEO Darcie Antle said “crisis” is a strong word to describe the county’s financial situation, but there are areas of concern, including close to $70 million in long-term debt service and rising interest rates as the county contemplates refinancing bonds to fund the new jail. Eleven million dollars in disaster reimbursements from FEMA are still outstanding.

And Antle described the confluence of events that led up to the sudden news about last year’s $3.6 million shortfall in the county health plan. She recalled that just before COVID, and the high-dollar claims that followed, the county had a robust reserve in the health plan. 

“The prior Auditor-Controller came forward in 16/17 and stated that our reserve for the health plan, the fund balance, was too high,” she recalled; “and that the State Controller was concerned about that, and recommended that we spend down that amount of money. I think we spent down roughly $6 million through a health holiday. That occurred in 17/18 and 18/19. In the quarter of October through December of each respective year, employees and the county did not pay the premium for those months. So those were health holidays, which equated to about a $6 million spend-down. In December of 2019, who would imagine we would be going into COVID…claims increased, acuities increased, over the last three years.”

In August of last year, Antle met with former Auditor-Controller Lloyd Weer to discuss a $1.1 million deficit in the health plan. She stated that in 2021, “that information was reported to the Board, a couple of times…At that time, the team, the HR team, and the Executive Office did ask for an increase in the health plan, and that increase went into effect January 1 of 2022 at a 12% increase,” which Antle says was well within the amount allowed by the county’s contracts with its labor unions.

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There was a delay in reporting the additional $2.5 million deficit to the board, and Antle said her team did report the inaccurate number. She said the $1.1 million deficit was on a cash basis, “which can be seen by any department running a month to actual report. That is what was obtained by the Executive Office, the HR office, and what was clearly understood by our outside actuary. The $2.5 million, which is the number that was missing from the original $3.6 million, that was on an accrual basis on the balance sheet, and the balance sheet is balanced once per year by the outside auditors. The balance sheet for 2021, because of the delay in the outside audit, was not completed and submitted to the auditor (because they completed and submit to the auditor), until the end of June, early July, of 2022. So we can clearly see that from the financial statement now. But that wasn’t what was reported. And again, the team reported twice, publicly, a $1.1 (million deficit). Nothing was brought forward to clarify those statements. So is this misdoing on anyone’s part, or is this part of a transition? We had our Auditor-Controller retire. Our Treasurer-Tax Collector retired. We have a new person stepping into a dual role that had never been filled here before. I’m stepping into my new role as well. So I think everybody needs to continue to work together, and come together as a team, and make sure that there is transparency and communication to the Board, and to the public.”

The county is currently negotiating with its labor unions, which also want more budget information. Last month, SEIU Local 1021 filed a complaint with the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) about lengthy delays in fulfilling requests for detailed information, which Deputy CEO Cherie Johnson said she’s working to supply. The county has until August 18 to respond to PERB about the complaint and is likely to face a number of deadlines to produce the rest of the information to the union negotiators.  

The union is asking for a 5% Cost Of Living Adjustment, or COLA, and Antle said she is asking for a one-year pause on that part of the negotiation. “We really want to assess the financial stability of the county at this time,” she said. “Coming out of COVID, not receiving all our reimbursement from FEMA, going into a possible economic downturn. We really just want to understand the fiscal position. We are just asking for a one-year pause on the COLA…over the last three years, all bargaining units have received a 3% COLA each year…in that three-year period, they were also receiving classification study surveys to bring most if not all positions into market. So there were additional increases during that time.”

She hopes next year’s budget process will involve more collaboration, and more regular reports. “I would like to see the Auditor-Controller’s office, the Executive Office fiscal team, come together with the budget ad hoc on a regular basis,” she reflected. “Again, communication is both ways, so we need everybody to come to the table.”

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  1. I think the health plan needs to be investigated for possible embezzlement. We were all present for the 2020 and 2021 lockdown where all non emergency medical procedures were halted as dentists, orthodontists, and other medical offices closed completely. To say that you went into 2020 with an over funded health plan to a shuttered society and an underfunded health plan does not add up. No one wanted to go to any medical facility in 2020 before vaccinations and when COVID was rampant. All COVID medical costs were funded by the Federal Government. The county received tens of millions of dollars in COVID relief money (that’s how they spent nearly half a million on remodeling the BOS offices and adding security). The health plan needs to be investigated and audited for fraud going back to 2016 when it had a surplus of over 6.5 million to now being in the negative. Something doesn’t add up. Health plans and retirement plans are the easiest accounts to embezzle from for the lack of controls and over-site.

    • I know of multiple staff who have recently gone through cancer treatments over the last few years, I also know of several staff who were hospitalized due to Covid. That’s not even mentioning the family of staff. Just Saying!

  2. Do not put your or your family’s security or future in the hands of this county. Employees have more options than ever now in the job market. The tables have turned. Private corporations are wealthier than ever and offering high wages with loaded benefits and retirement packages. Don’t be afraid to commute South or even move East to the Sac Valley area that is loaded with opportunity. If you are young, move, explore, and investigate when you decide to lay down roots. Look closely at the County and how it is run. Look at the medium income and compare it to the county’s medium home price but better yet, how the county taxes it’s citizens. Are the wages low but the property taxes , sales taxes, rents high? What % of county is living in poverty? Do not go to a county like Mendocino which is one of the highest taxed Counties in the entire United States with also high poverty, low wages, low access to higher education & no accessibility to higher paying jobs in the leading tech industries. This county does not provide opportunities for young growing, working families. Don’t get stuck here. The quality of life is poor for average working people or even retirees in a county
    that finds a way to dig its way into every pocket you have, pushing you and your family into poverty when you should be rising and not falling behind.

    • I have been informed by several people who would beg to differ. with you One, a dietician, says there is ample opportunity here in that occupation, and Mendocino College is an excellent resource. Dr. Trotter claimed, on his radio program on KZYX, that there is a crying need for nurses, another program at the college that is excellent, and the pay is much higher than it used to be. Teachers are in high demand, with very good salaries and benefits, also programs available locally. Also talked to a speech therapist who said there is much need here for those, though I don’t know if training is available locally. These jobs require education, but we have two colleges here in the Ukiah area, Mendocino College and Dharma Reelm Buddhist University, a fully accredited four year college/university that also offers master’s degrees. Things have changed here all right, with more opportunity and better salaries and benefits.

      • I think Mr. Time for a Change covered more than demand for nurses and educators. Every business, agency, nonprofit, is short of workers. So, yes the demand is high but the supply is not. Reason — there is not enough housing, as we all know, and that is the result of ignoring the County’s economy. People paying attention know this but the BOS lack people who can get results.

  3. Should county employees tell their landlord or bank that they are taking a one year pause in paying their bills while they figure things out? Inflation is at 9%! An increase to cover the cost of living is a given. I think some of the leadership at the county are out of touch with the day-to-day struggles of their employees. When you make $200k+ you don’t have to put things back at the grocery store or only buy five gallons of gas because that’s all you can afford.

    • The entire executive office is over staffed and overpaid as it is. Why do they need so many analysts and fiscal people who don’t know what they’re even doing and don’t even have expertise. Why do they have so many more employees now than they did a couple years ago? Time to examine that office to find out why they keep getting ridiculous promotions yet the whole of the county can’t get a cola…

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Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith is a radio and print reporter working in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, focusing on local politics and environmental news.

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