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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.
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