Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, June 29, 2022 @ 5:32 p.m.

Measure R Oversight Committee Provides Breakdown of How Voter-Approved Tax Dollars Were Spent


The committee tasked with monitoring how revenue from Del Norte County’s voter-approved 1 percent sales tax is spent determined those dollars were spent properly, its spokesman told county supervisors Tuesday.

Reading from a prepared statement, David Jones, chairman of the Measure R Oversight Committee, summarized how each department receiving those tax dollars used them. The written report also included individual statements from the Del Norte County district attorney, probation chief, community development director, veterans services officer and animal services director.

County Administrative Officer Neal Lopez also provided statements on behalf of the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office, which up until May 24 had been without a sheriff and an undersheriff, as well as the Office of Emergency Services.

Jones’ presentation wasn’t good enough for Linda Sutter, who authored a petition to repeal Measure R and on Tuesday pointed out that the only dollar figure Jones mentioned was $6,500 to the Veterans Services Department to replace second-hand furniture at the Veterans Memorial Hall.

“You told us $6,500 went to veterans, but you sure the heck didn’t explain what went into the other categories. That tells the story,” Sutter said. “As far as I’m concerned, this report was generic. It had absolutely nothing regarding how much money was spent and I’m extremely disappointed.”

In April, County Administrative Officer Neal Lopez told the Outpost that Measure R was initially projected to generate $1.2 million annually.

On Wednesday, Lopez said the county had received about $1.3 million in Measure R revenue for the 2021-22 fiscal year through March. Noting that the state is about three months behind usually in remitting sales tax revenue back to counties, Lopez said Del Norte is still waiting on its tax revenue for April, May and June.

With those three months, Measure R is expected to generate $1.6 million to $1.8 million, Lopez told the Outpost.

On Tuesday, the Measure R Oversight Committee report came after Del Norte County Sheriff Garrett Scott introduced a new deputy and a new dispatcher — Michael Jamison, from Lake County, and Priscilla Torres, from Delano, Calif.

The DNSO was able to hire Torres with Measure R dollars, according to Jones’s report. The sales tax also provided for the addition of a second records clerk in the department as well as salary increases for deputies and jail staff in an effort to narrow discrepancies with other agencies and “reduce out migration.”

In a May 2 report to the Oversight Committee, Lopez said $748,700 in Measure R revenue was allocated to the DNSO. In addition to wage adjustments and the new dispatch position, those tax dollars were used to purchase three new patrol vehicles and an inmate transport van.

According to Lonnie Reyman, Del Norte County’s chief probation officer, Measure R dollars were also used to lessen salary disparities between his agency and others. The department currently has a 36 percent vacancy rate, he said, and competition for applicants is fierce.

A deputy probation officer makes 3 percent less than a new deputy recruit at the sheriff’s office and 12 percent less than DNSO deputy. A correctional officer at juvenile hall makes 6 percent less than a corrections officer at the Del Norte County Jail, Reyman said.

“Specifically, the Probation Department has solely used its allocation of Measure R funds to support the salary increases that were put into effect during the last year,” he said. “At this time, there is no other Measure R funding for any other purpose that has been allocated to the department.”

According to the county’s Budget Inquiry web page, $37,986 out of a total of $81,700 in Measure R dollars earmarked for probation has been transferred to Reyman’s department.

In his report to the Measure R Oversight Committee, Reyman said he had no part in the discussions of how Measure R dollars should be used.

“While I understand the logic behind this as all the funds are allocated to salaries, as my department is only staffed at 64 percent currently, I don’t believe the transfer is an exact representation of actual expenditures for these funds,” Reyman wrote. “I and my staff will be working with the Auditor-Controller to clarify the transfer and ensure that both the designated purpose and the reality on the ground are met in the expenditure of these funds.”

In his presentation to Del Norte County supervisors Tuesday, Jones said the probation department used Measure R dollars to increase staff salaries in an effort to narrow its vacancy rate of 37 percent.

In her April 22 report to the Measure R Oversight Committee, District Attorney Katherine Micks said her office is budgeted to receive $20,200 in Measure R dollars for fiscal year 2021-22. This makes up 3 percent of the salary for two investigator positions in her office, she said.

“Del Norte County DA investigators have some of the lowest pay in the State of California,” Micks wrote. “Measure R has allowed this office to make up some of that pay disparity.”

The Measure R dollars allocated to the Community Development Department allowed it to create a second code enforcement officer and a second planner, according to Director Heidi Kunstal.

In her April 12 report, Kunstal said $71,500 in Measure R dollars earmarked for salaries and benefits for that second code enforcement officer. As of April 9, Code Enforcement received $22,866 for the new position.

“This is the second time in the history of the Code Enforcement Division that the county has had two positions dedicated to enforcing local codes. No other funding source previously existed for the second position,” Kunstal said. “The division averages around 385 new complaints-cases a year. Depending on the nature and complexity of the cases, one code enforcement officer can satisfactorily handle 150 new cases per year.”

Those new complaints include health and safety violations, nuisance code violations, illegal cannabis cultivation, grading violations, building and zoning code violations, according to Kunstal. Illegal dumping complaints are increasing as well, she said.

Meanwhile, $77,000 has been earmarked for the salaries and benefits for the second planner position, which was filled in September 2021. As of April 9, the Del Norte County Planning Division received $38,491 in Measure R dollars, according to Kunstal.

“With one planner position, the workload was prioritized to address current planning, which is the day-to-day request for information and the processing of development applications such as subdivisions, boundary adjustments, rezones and use permits. Without these activities occurring in a timely manner, it can have an immediate impact on the ability of the public to buy, sell and improve property if they are waiting for permits or information related to their development plans,” Kunstal said. “By the spring of 2021, it was apparent that the division was unable to keep up on current planning work due to the increase in inquiries regarding development in Del Norte County and the increasing complexity of responding to inquiries due to environmental constraints and federal regulations.”

The Planning Division is also responsible for monitoring the county’s general plan, its Local Coastal Program as well as zoning regulations, according to Kunstal.

Speaking as both the CAO and the director of emergency services, Lopez told the Measure R committee that $76,500 in Measure R dollars was used to create a new Office of Emergency Services coordinator who would be an assistant to the manager. That position is now filled, Lopez told the committee on March 10.
Lastly, Measure R dollars were also allocated to the Del Norte

County Department of Agriculture for its Animal Services Division. According to Animal Services Director Justin Riggs, $78,805 went toward the creation of an animal services supervisor position.

Riggs said his division promoted an existing animal control officer to the supervisor position and is seeking to fill a second animal control officer position. Measure R dollars are also used to increase the salaries for the county’s animal control officers, Riggs said.

“This has had a clear impact to the quality of applicants in our animal control officer recruitments,” he told the committee. “We anticipate this will also help with retention, a constant issue for animal services agencies.”


Measure R dollars are also being used to upgrade the Del Norte County Animal Shelter facility, Riggs said. This includes receiving new doors for its main garage, Riggs said.

In her petition to the county to repeal Measure R, Sutter pointed to the county’s high unemployment, poverty, taxes, gas prices and inflated food costs. She said county employees have not voluntarily reduced their salaries and benefits. She also stated that since Measure R dollars were placed in the general fund, “there must be constant watch on how the supervisors are spending the money.”

In his report summary on Tuesday, Jones said Measure R dollars are accounted for in a separate budget, which both the oversight committee and public can view. The Measure R Committee has also requested random audits be completed and provided for review.

Del Norte County voters approved Measure R by a narrow margin in 2020.

Documents:

Measure R Oversight Committee report


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