Supervisors balked at a request for Measure B funds to build a treatment center for substance use disorder, citing a lack of specifics and uncertainty about the future of the new jail, which is supposed to serve inmates suffering from mental illness. Cost overruns on constructing the jail, which has not yet broken ground, have mounted steadily.
The Ford Street Project is seeking $4.1 million of Measure B funds to build a 3,663 square foot 24-bed sober-living dormitory on its property near the Ukiah Recovery Center. The expansion effort got a little over $3 million for the first phase last year from the California Department of Healthcare Services. That money will be used to build a 3,350 square foot treatment pavilion. Ford Street and another entity submitted proposals to the county’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Department last year. This week, Behavioral Health recommended Ford Street’s proposal for next steps, including contract negotiations.
Supervisor Ted Williams said he was concerned about over-allocating money that might be needed at the jail, and Supervisor Glenn McGourty noted that the Board does not have a complete accounting of Measure B funds. Supervisor Maureen Mulheren pointed out that the Board has been aware of Ford Street’s plans for over a year.
“If we’re going to ask staff to present all of the accounting, then the $9.3 million grant that we got for the puff should be included,” she declared. (The county received the money from the state Department of Healthcare Services to build the psychiatric health facility on Whitmore Lane in Ukiah.) “The opioid settlement money should be included,” Mulheren continued. “There are funds coming the way of the county as we deal with the expansion of the jail. I just think that that process will take several years, and this project does have an urgent timeline. So if this Board does not want to consider moving this specific project forward at this time, then that needs to be a clear statement.”
Supervisor Dan Gjerde said the project is too expensive, calculating that, according to information provided by staff, construction costs for the proposed project come out to almost $2,000 a square foot. “We also know we have needs for the jail,” he said. “We do not have the money. We don’t have the general fund dollars to fully fund the jail. I think that for us to fund an outside group before we understand how we might be able to fund an in-county project that is in need of funds would be a mistake.”
Jacque Williams, the Executive Director of the Ford Street Project, said the property is unimproved, meaning water and electric services will have to be developed for the new project, in addition to construction. And she complained about a lack of clarity in the process she was supposed to follow in order to request the money. “I’ve tried to follow your process,” she told the Board. “And your process has shifted…The process as I understood it was if the oversight committee made a recommendation back to you, that you would then decide yea or nay before we move forward with this contract process. We’ve spent over a year and enormous amounts of time. If there really isn’t an interest because we’re an outside agency, you owe me that clarity.” She took note of organizational weaknesses at the county, adding, “I also want to remind you: For the last year, all we’ve heard is, (the county) can’t afford maintaining its property, trouble with paying staff appropriately…We are literally the delivery arm of many programs that are funded through the state, through the county. You need to figure out what your position is in working with non-profits like us. Because I think you‘ve demonstrated for yourselves that you can’t afford to be vertically integrated and provide everything to everybody.”
This led to a sharp exchange of views with Gjerde, who calculated further that the publicly funded construction project would require prevailing wage, which he estimated would increase costs by 30%, up to six times the cost of homes that he is aware of that have been built in Fort Bragg in the past few years. “Why would I vote to contribute money towards a project that’s seeking a 600% increase over what I know can be built right here in Mendocino County?” he asked.
Jacque Williams had a question of her own. “Why would you vote without giving me the opportunity to provide you a statement of work and a breakdown of what those costs are?” she demanded. “You are flying blind with incomplete information. And you’re jeopardizing a program that is adding immediate value to this community in an urgent way, because it’s so needed.”
“How do I know that the existing funding isn’t sufficient?” Gjerde replied, reiterating that her request far exceeded his estimate of the costs.
Ted Williams raised a process objection at that point, and McGourty expressed his own disappointment with another process. “I’m kind of disappointed at the way Behavioral Health and County Counsel appear to have had a hard time communicating what they needed from the onset,” he noted. “We’ve drug this thing out. We’re finally getting to the point where we probably should have been at the beginning, which is to actually have some real information about, a) what are things going to cost; b) what are competing needs in the county budget; c) whether there’s a will of the Board to do this. So I think an ad hoc would be really useful.”
He then appointed Supervisors Mulheren and John Haschak to an ad hoc committee to research a number of questions about the proposal before the full board makes a decision: “To look at the contract with Ford Street. To see what the actual cost of the project is. We also want to know what our available balances are in our Measure B funding. We also want to know what portion of the Measure B funds may be used for finishing our new jail wing.”
Assistant County Counsel Charlotte Scott said legal counsel is working up an opinion about the use of Measure B money for the jail.