Sat. Dec 9th, 2023

Commentary By Samuel Strait – February 11, 2022

An interesting morning hour was spent Thursday, February 10th with Del Norte County’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Neal Lopez and Supervisor Chris Howard discussing the County’s “financial plight” and certain questions about just how Measure “R” money was to be spent.  I suppose the burning question that was asked, “Was Measure “R” money being spent on wages and salaries for the County?”  Both Lopez and Howard insisted this was not the case.  All moneys budgeted for the 2021-2022 fiscal year for employees were to be found within the general fund budget was the message. 

When asked about the recent consent agenda passed raises for County employees, the answer was the same, the money came either from within the County department’s individual budgets often as a result of that particular department’s vacancies and subsequent cost savings.  Howard went on to say many departments are providing services without benefit of being fully staffed. The Sheriff’s Office was held up as an example.  He went on to explain the difficulty of the County’s ability to hire due to low compensation and applicant’s lack of skill set.

What is interesting about this rational is the notion that inspite of severe departmental shortages, services appear to be operating much as normal.  The same complaints of lack of service even when the County was more fully staffed  continue to register.  Yet salaries and benefits continue to climb without much visible effort on local government’s part
to correct that lack of service beyond asking for more money. 

You all remember the part about “no money for salaries and benefit from Measure ‘R’ money”.  As such it was somewhat of a surprise when Howard and Lopez began to detail just exactly what priorities were on tap for the funds. 

Six employees:

  • Three for the Sheriff,
  • One for Animal Control,
  • One for Code Enforcement,
  • And a Grant Writer. 

They went on to say that more tax money was received than budgeted;  hence, some was set aside for infrastructure projects, roads maybe?  Not so fast.  Road repair was claimed to be “too” expensive.  The Veteran’s Hall roof was mentioned along with a few other ideas, nothing “set in stone.”

Inter mixed with this explanation of how the money was held separately from other general fund monies was a constant reference to “The State” and the requirements that they added to the County’s burden.  We Can’t do this, We Can’t do that, the state requires us to do this, and the state demands that we have to do it that way.  Maybe the STATE should
come up and run the County and save us the tax burden of hiring our own local government?

Lots of conflicting information over the hour discussion.  If the County does indeed have difficulty hiring qualified
people to fill the County’s vacancies, what does that say about the people it does hire?  Are they the best people to be making decisions for our benefit?  Is it even possible to have high quality employees working for the County?   What does that imply for those that fill executive level positions?  Can the County’s residents even reach the rarefied heights of compensating good quality government employees?

At this point the conversation turned to the local economy, education and the general glut of  people within the County that were dependent on various government services.  Supervisor Howard bemoaned the loss of the County’s resource based economy and his efforts to revive it, while acknowledging it was not a viable strategy.  Talked about investments in the tourist industry, yet had no solution for the lean winter months or the lack of much more than a hand full of attractions to keep tourists here for any length of time.  When pointed to the current economy being mostly government services, increasing seemingly on a daily basis, Supervisor Howard admitted that it wouldn’t be a successful path in the long run.  Trying to keep local youth here to have a life when Del Norte County has so little to offer was the next stake in the heart of general malaise we have experienced for decades locally.

I came away with little to quell my already high level of anxiety that local government was indeed rudderless.  While Howard displayed what seemed to be a great deal of concern for the direction the County was headed, other than conflicting information and roads to nowhere, I found myself continuing to be disappointed by simple things.  Did he
really believe that a “Additional” Animal Control Officer was much more than on the minds of a tiny fraction of the population necessitating the hire of an additional Officer “With Measure “R” money?”  Did he really believe that hiring three additional officers for the Sheriff’s Office would make some kind of difference?  Does he really think that an additional Code Enforcement Officer will quell even a small fraction of enforcement issues when the County has the level of dependency it has?  Can the County continue to live on targeted grant money that very often leads to more issues for the County’s budget?

I didn’t find much in the way of answers to any of those questions during the course of the hour long discussion except a strong desire to spend more money for what appeared to be directionless causes.  Return of a resource based economy in the age of “Climate Change”, rabid environmentalism in California and even locally, and no other real year
round economy does not equate to much success.   Lack of quality education and the means to hold our best and brightest here at home.  Nothing beyond low income menial and service related jobs for those that do not aspire to greatness.  It was a grim picture painted by Supervisor Howard irregardless of the misplaced energy that he insists he has to offer.  No vision beyond doing what he did forty years ago.  Mr. CAO had even less to offer……   CAO Lopez, despite being in County government for years, did not venture to offer anything. This assessment is understandably harsh, but times are tough for others beyond those in government that had much less difficulty dealing with the past two years and are receiving a very generous 7% to 12% raise in salary.  Most of the rest of the county has suffered with rampant inflation and no generous raise in sight, just another dip into their already mostly empty pockets by County government.  That’s my disappointment………

2 thoughts on “Measure “R”: With Neal Lopez And Chris Howard”
  1. I’m sure you didn’t Sam, but don’t expect anything other than disappointment when listening to our local leaders. They are either complacent in the degradation of our community, or too ignorant to offer real solutions to the growing list of problems in Del Norte County. The host of your meeting and County CAO has the most to gain from the approved pay raise. Should we really expect him to care where the money comes from? Not affecting the CAO’s neighborhood, other recent budget allocations will likely attract and retain more homeless to our community.
    I have not heard one tangible outcome from County Administration or the Board of Supervisors, besides the ability to inflate Government spending. In F.Y. 2020, our tax dollars paid about 70 County employees over $100,000. According to Transparent California our County salaries are 65% higher than wages in the local private sector, and we spend over 32 million dollars a year on County Salaries. As one of the poorest Counties in the State, what do we get for these considerate salaries?
    • Highly controversial election processes and outcomes
    • A Roadway Safety Plan (a public survey to define deficiencies they are too blind to see)
    • More infrastructure proposals, followed with continued inaction
    • Assaults on our American Freedoms
    • Increased Blight
    • A homeless hotel
    • Skyrocketing Inflation
    • More social despair, substance abuse, mental illness, child abuse, and Violence
    • Diminishing economic opportunities
    Besides the hard working people in the Building/Maintenance Department, and Road Department it’s difficult to find anything positive our County is achieving. Maybe someone reading this can respond and illustrate some of the positive outcomes County Administrators have accomplished. We could all use some positive News! While your at it, please explain why the County is hiring a Nurse? Could it be, the County has condoned Sutter Health’s ongoing price gauging and now want a piece of the action. Yes, Sutter Health is being sued AGAIN, this time with 3 million plaintiffs. I hope that government stays out of providing health care, but the County Health and Human Services Department is drastically increasing.
    Government employment appears to be the beacon of opportunity for the County, and for perspective employees. If anyone is looking for a job, the County has 31 positions available. If you have a pulse, you’ll likely be considered and handsomely overcompensated (that goes for selfish Administration, most departmental staff probably have difficulty paying their bills like the rest of us.)
    We cannot limit the criticism to our local governing boards. State representatives are bullying local government and our community. Constituents increasing comments of frustration to CoVid protocols are responded to with threats of government litigation and fee’s. Last week, our state Assembly unconscionably voted to continue the imposed State of Emergency. It’s a Story made for Hollywood, and culminated with the Super Bowl party in Inglewood California. If a person hasn’t read the State Of Emergency proclamation established Mar 4 2020, please do so. This document is not about the health of California citizens. Instead, it’s a political opportunity for unilateral authority, increasing the monetary value for invested stakeholders, and Zoom.
    We can only kick a downed dog so long! Someone needs to restore respect and authority to the County with a rebuttal to these accusations of negligence. Or, is it really as bad as it appears to be? We need the TRUCKERS!

  2. Very well said Sam. I was glad you were there taking in the conversation quietly until we were almost done and then BAM… it was like a tsunami they didn’t expect. You gave them a lot to ponder upon!!! So much for their emergency preparedness on that one.

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