Thursday, December 7, 2023

‘Mendocino County Government Is Obviously In Crisis and It Looks as If Our Crisis Is Deepening’—Letter to the Editor

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[Stock photo by Matt LaFever]

Dear Editor,

Mendocino County government is obviously in crisis and it looks as if our crisis is deepening. Recently our County Auditor Controller Treasurer Tax Collector and the former County payroll manager both had criminal complaints filed against them by the Mendocino County District Attorney. Their arraignment is this Tuesday morning in Mendocino County Superior Court.

I believe in due process and that everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. I do not know all the facts in the case or their merit. I will withhold public judgment of the ACTTC and former payroll manager, patiently waiting for our justice system to decide what is fact, what is fiction, if and who is guilty, then levy whatever punishment is necessary. It does our system a disservice to speculate and poison the well of public opinion, tainting the possible jury pool.  

Regardless of the outcome of the recent criminal cases, it seems obvious that County finances haven’t been what they should be for quite some time. Before 2014, County budgets were easy to follow. Then between 2014 and 2017, the format changed and the financial picture became less clear. The Board continued passing budgets without a clear financial picture.

In 2014 the County elected a new Auditor-Controller then in 2015 adopted a new software program to upgrade the County’s property tax assessment and tax collection system. The software program integration is still in process, we have another Auditor-Controller and in late 2021, the BOS voted to combine the offices of Treasurer Tax Collector and Auditor-Controller into one elected office despite protests from both offices. County finances and our financial systems have been in turmoil for almost a decade. 

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I still have misgivings about the combining of the offices of Auditor-Controller and Treasurer Tax Collector. Since the consolidation of Elections and Assessors offices, the Assessor’s side of the office has suffered. Consolidating very different functions of County government under one office doesn’t guarantee greater efficiencies if the tasks of each department have no overlap or redundancy. It takes away the power of the electorate to hold officeholders accountable and gives that responsibility to the BOS. On the other hand, voters don’t often hold errant officeholders accountable by way of a recall. One way or another, those that serve in these positions must be held accountable.  We should tread thoughtfully and carefully into whatever our next steps are.

Finger-pointing won’t fix the crisis or move the County in the right direction. We need our elected officials to assume leadership roles, take responsibility for County finances, work together to come up with a plan of corrective action then commit the resources needed to execute. Anyone not willing or able to work together and play their part, should resign or face a recall. If anyone is participating in financial malfeasance, they need to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. 

The Assessor’s office is not promptly reassessing property taxes after sales or new construction. There are many buildings that have been built without permits and are not on the tax rolls. The County needs to prioritize fully staffing the department to get caught up and stay caught up. This may require paying a more competitive wage, offering a hiring bonus and possibly performance bonuses. We should be using whatever technologies or services are available to identify unpermitted buildings, offer them amnesty to come in, get on the tax rolls or face the consequences. If we aren’t properly collecting taxes, we are not collecting the revenues to fund County functions such as the Sheriff’s Department, maintaining roads, etc and our community suffers.

The Auditor Controller’s office needs to work with the Executive office and County Departments to develop annual budgets and standardized monthly financial reports to track financial progress throughout the year. With revenues and expenses being closely tracked throughout the year, adjustments can be made to keep costs in line before the end of the Fiscal Year. The Auditor Controller may be in charge of the County’s accounting but this work must be supported by all departments and offices to be as accurate and timely as possible.

The Board of Supervisors must work with the Executive Office to get timely monthly reports from all departments and elected offices. These reports must be made available to the public in the CEO report. Just as there is time allotted for public comment on non-agenda items at the beginning of the meeting, there should also be time allotted for staff reports. When necessary, departments should be required to give reports not just for the benefit of the Board, but in the interest of public transparency as this is our County. The BOS must support staff/departments with whatever training and continuing education is necessary to manage the County efficiently and effectively.

If the County doesn’t have accurate and timely financial information, the BOS can’t make educated decisions which puts us all at risk as we fly blind. We can’t afford to be held hostage by any one department or office. We must work together for the sake of the County. 

-Adam Gaska, Candidate for 1st District Supervisor

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  1. Good speech. I’m curious on the Special Audit from the State. Some outside input is needed to pop this Mendocino bubble. Then the healing can begin.

  2. That was very well stated. Especially for the people whom don’t have the knowledge regarding county processes. I 100% agree with everything you stated. I think that the issue is happening in multiple counties. The lack of public information of what happens behind closed doors. The over work of and combination of departments which gain too much responsibility or just shouldn’t be in the same office what so ever. The state and country is losing more and more faith in all levels of government , causing a domino effect on to the future generations. I could go on and on… Again. You said this very well and I agree with everything you wrote here… Thank you.

  3. So a new software program was adopted in 2015, and eight years later it still is not integrated?
    Buggy software seems to be a modern curse, and that is a long time to be waiting for full functionality. How much did that contribute to the current confusion?
    This entire situation could use an outside examination.

    • The financial offices (Assessor, Auditor, and tax collector) were resistant to implementing the software. The CEO eventually forced all the offices into the integration process in 2020-2021. There was no backing up or practice runs of the prior data and it was one big jump. That is part of the reason you saw many retirements happening like in the CEO, Tax Collector, and Auditor’s office. Tax bills were super delayed. Unfortunately the data coming across from AS 400 showed that some processes the old guard was used to had to change and some processes were just incorrect. I’m sure there is more to it but this process shook up the offices to their cores.

    • After talking to employees past and present, the problem isn’t so much with the program but with our process in assessment which doesn’t follow the State’s guidelines which the program is designed after. Our process does not give the dat the program wants. The department didn’t want to change it’s process. Transferring data was next to impossible which led to the bugs and hiccups. It comes back to keeping our process up to date for efficiency, training and offering education employees to modernize.

      • That’s correct. The Assessor’s office had poor / nonexistent record keeping procedures long before Aumentum was integrated. Using inappropriate methods to assess property was common practice and enforced by mgmt. Prop 8s wouldn’t be updated on time and led to massive fluctuations in taxable values in one roll period due to no property value adjustment YOY for many years. Prop 8s often times were arbitrarily increased by 2% where there was no data recorded but the Mgmt would mimic the Prop 13 2% increases so it didn’t set off alarms. Working in the Assessors office felt like going back to early 80s where little to nothing has changed. Using As400 and Parcel cards with pencils more often than not.

      • Once we started using the new satellite image systems we were finding all sorts of buildings not on record not to mention thousands of black market cannabis sites. The BOS needs to raise the low limit threshold from $1000 to $4999 to get rid of useless hobby business accounts in PPA that just create more work with no taxable revenue. Basically this office needs tech from at least 2005 to be more effective at its job. All construction plans need to be downloaded into a database and not redrawn onto a parcel with pencil than tossed. The Appraisers should be in contact with planning building more often for their projects.

        • The Assessor’s office was down to 2 appraisers a couple short years ago, because the Assessor at the time refused to hire anyone to replace employees who retired, found other jobs or passed away. NONE of the department heads who were involved in the property system software purchase (which involved the Assessor, the Auditor and the Tax Collector) are with the County now. Over the last months, new appraisers have been hired who have to be trained and certified. The appraisers wages have been raised. The new system has been nothing but trouble – what works today will most likely not work tomorrow, the reports are non-existent – it was TERRIBLE. The current Assessor and team have been working with IS and the vendor, moving forward and have been able to produce supplemental notices and corrections since April, they continue to run notices on a monthly basis. Mr Gaska needs to be up to date on the happenings rather than just spouting off with old happenings.

          • Susan Ranochak – (the former Assessor) was still working in the Assessor’s office up at least until 2022 and was working with Aumentum staff for a few years prior to the integration. Did Susan retire for real this time?

            • I believe she was helping in elections and business property mainly – donating her time, I understand she wasnt being paid. She did some prep work in the old system before they converted. IS also did a lot of prep work but in the end the vendor said they would do the conversion rather than IS – it seemed like a big rush….a lot of assumptions were made by the vendor that were not correct – it was a mess from the start.

              • It was well known she was helping with the Williamson Act properties being brought over to Aumentum and in fact she was instrumental in helping with the data transfer in general since she was the only one in the office who knew how to assess these special types of properties, which we now know weren’t assessed properly. No one in the office had actually done assessments on Williamson act parcels, and she didn’t train anyone after she “retired” I heard different stories on whether she was paid or not for her ‘donated time’, but I’ll let the state audit divulge us that story. These are difficult jobs and time consuming for solely volunteer work given this office has a history of high turnover, but if it is pure volunteer time, good for her. She is part of the reason the office is so far behind in the first place. Those aren’t just my words. I learned it from certain influential folks still working for the Mendocino County outfit.

  4. The BOS became used to Carmel Angelo doing everything for them. They still haven’t properly recovered the losses incurred. Lazy BOS having the corrupt DA dig up dirt on the Tax Collector because they don’t like her doing her job? yeah, that’s just one piece of the corruption. Keep digging. We the citizens of this county need to recall these clowns once and for all!

  5. Ridiculous. It’s not offices of this working with auditors from that, it’s ineffective leadership and too much graft. The homeless and drug pyramid scheme will destroy this county.

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MendoFever Staff
MendoFever Staff
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