Humboldt County Looks To Cut Another $2 Million From Budget

Ryan Sundberg, Humboldt County’s 5th District supervisor, attended the County-wide public budget hearing from Hoopa Valley High School. Each supervisor attended from their own district with a video links to all of the other locations. / Photo by Kristan Korns, Two Rivers Tribune

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

Humboldt County’s five supervisors met over video link from five different locations and took questions over Twitter for the County-wide public budget hearing on Thursday, March 6.

Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, who represents the County’s 5th District, said, “I appreciate being able to have these County meetings here in Hoopa, and I appreciate the participation of everyone who came.”

Local nonprofit Access Humboldt, which runs four public access cable television stations and broadcasts local government meetings, helped make the event possible.

Executive Director Sean McLaughlin said “Pulling off a live government proceeding from five locations is getting national attention. We’re pushing the technology to the limits.”

Members of the public were encouraged to ask or tweet questions about the County’s budget, after a presentation by Humboldt County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes.

“If we make no changes to our budget, we will consume all of the balance in the general fund by June 30 of next year,” Smith-Hanes said. “Our projections show our savings account becomes a negative number by 2016.”

Smith-Hanes said the County needed to cut another $2 million from its budget in order to “reach a balance.”

That was not welcome news to community members across Humboldt, who said they are concerned about the lack of law enforcement and the rise of crime.

Cinnamon O’Neill Paula, director of the Garberville-Redway area Chamber of Commerce in Southern Humboldt, said, “There are burglaries, thefts, and we have fires being started, yet the Sheriff is unable to respond. What kind of noise do we need to make to get the coverage we need?”

Rick Brennan, from Eureka, said, “It looks like Humboldt County is being besieged by crime. 25 percent of the crime in Eureka is caused by meth and the whole street is full of vagrants and homeless people; how is business going to come in here?”

Tim Bussell, from Hoopa, responded to recent cut backs that reduced Sheriff’s Department coverage of Eastern Humboldt to just one officer from around 6 am to 6 pm.

“Most of the crime that affects us out here seems to happen from 6 pm to 6 am, so that coverage would be of more use at night,” Bussell said.

Smith-Hanes answered the first question about law enforcement cutbacks during a time of rising crime levels by saying, “We certainly hear you on police presence in our rural areas, and that’s something the Sheriff is aware of.”

Around the fourth or fifth time that concerned community members brought the subject up, his responses became more direct and to the point.

“We’re not in a position to increase services during budget cuts,” Smith-Hanes said.

The County’s ability to raise property taxes – which is where the bulk of locally-generated government funding comes from – is severely limited by California’s Proposition 13.

“Prop 13 limits property tax increases to the lesser of two percent or the rate of inflation,” Smith-Hanes said. “For this year, that number was less than half of one percent.”

Local environmental activist Patty Cleary said the County should tax marijuana production.

“There’s a lot of money being made here,” Cleary said. “We have thriving agricultural enterprises, so why our County should be suffering from a lack of money is beyond me.”

Smith-Hanes said County officials have talked about taxing marijuana, but it was very difficult to figure out exactly how much money is there and how it could be taxed. “One possibility is something like the Excessive Energy Tax in Arcata.”

Another possible way to raise revenues would be a county-wide increase in sales taxes.

“If sales taxes in the entire county matched those in Arcata and Eureka, we’d generate about $1 million more in tax revenue per year,” Smith-Hanes said.  “But it would require a vote of the people and wouldn’t generate revenue until 2015.”

Rex Bohn, 1st District Supervisor, pointed out that the County was put in the position of paying up-front for services like education, and then waiting for reimbursement payments from the state that sometimes never come.
In 2010 alone, $24 million was lost to State take backs.

“We try to do the best we can for the people; the best bang for the buck, but then the State comes in and takes our money,” Bohn said.

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