Virtual County Budget Meeting Held in Hoopa and Throughout Humboldt
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors sat down with members of the public in each of the county’s five districts on Thursday, Feb. 28, and used videoconferencing equipment to see and hear each of the gatherings across the county.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, in Ferndale, said, “Today we go where no one has gone before. This is a first in the county and the first one in the state.”
The meeting was televised by Access Humboldt on Channel 10 and is part of the county’s Open Humboldt, and initiative to “broaden civic engagement and increase public trust in government.”
Humboldt County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes, in Eureka, started off the meeting with a summary of the county’s budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012-2013.
The good news was that passage of State Propositions 30 and 39 helped balance the state budget, preventing any further cuts to state services at the county level.
Humboldt County’s unemployment rate of 9.6 percent is slightly below California’s statewide rate of 9.7 percent, but almost two points above the national unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.
The bad news is that Humboldt County dipped into its cash reserves because of the economic downturn, and there are no “excess” funds to invest in things like reserves, staffing, or infrastructure.
Smith-Hanes said, “There is pent-up demand for infrastructure. County roads have significant maintenance issues, and there’s over $200 million in deferred maintenance between county buildings and roads.”
With less than $5 million in the county’s General Fund, those roads and buildings won’t likely see that maintenance any time soon.
Smith-Hanes’ upbeat tone and delivery were sometimes at odds with the news that he was delivering.
Holly Klingle, speaking from Eureka, said, “I’m so angry I could spit. I am appalled at what is happening. We are in dire straights economically and it is insulting to try and paint a rosy picture.”
Klingle, along with several other speakers from around the county, also voiced her support for a pay increase for health support workers, who currently make minimum wage.
George Monroe, the fire chief for Myers Flat, spoke from Southern Humboldt and made a plea for more funding for his department.
“Our fire department responds to every non-violent emergency in the area, and we’ve traditionally received the smallest share of the budget,” Monroe said. “Our engines are wearing out. Our fire houses are crumbling.”
Steve Paine, the manager of the Willow Creek Community Services District (WCCSD), spoke from Hoopa.
“With only one code enforcement person in the county, we’re inundated with hundreds of cases of water diversion,” Paine said. “It would pay for itself if we enforced these taxes.”
Kent Slotsky, speaking from Blue Lake, said, “Are we going to be able to budget for an upgrade to our levy out here, or an emergency plan if the levy should fail?”
Smith-Hanes said, “We have three different levy systems; in Orrick, Fortuna, and Blue Lake. The levy maintenance is an example of the deferred maintenance that is one of those challenges we’re facing.”
After the public speakers finished, Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell in Southern Humboldt said, “I heard about roads, firefighters, levies, and prioritizing our elders and kids. It’s a pleasure to be part of a countywide experiment.”
Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, in Hoopa, said, “This was a great experience; to see the reactions on people’s faces around the county.”
After the county-wide meeting ended, the talk in Hoopa turned to the coming effects of the U.S. Federal Government’s budget sequestration.
Mike Reid, superintendent of the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District (KTJUSD), said, “It’s precarious for the district because there’s no property tax revenue for 92 percent of our clientele.”
Sundberg nodded and said, “Out of the whole square, there are only 2500 acres that are fee lands that pay state taxes.”
Reid said the sequestration cuts will affect everything from free and reduced price lunch programs, to library programs, to teachers’ aides, to before and after school programs.
“For this district it’s like a double whammy,” Reid said. “We depend not only on title programs, but also on federal impact aid. It’ll be a catastrophe.”