UKIAH, 6/6/23 — The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a $421 million budget for Fiscal Year 23/24 during a lengthy public hearing Tuesday that veered into discussions of cost-cutting measures and possibilities for generating revenue such as selling county-owned properties and fleet vehicles — or even outsourcing the motor pool to a rental car company.
Workers with Service Employees International Union Local No. 1021 were also in attendance to advocate for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) in their next labor contract. The bargaining unit represents more than 750 county workers, and several addressed the board during public comment at the top of the meeting, including Mendocino County Chapter President Julie Beardsley.
“I feel like this is deja vu all over again, because we were here last year,” Beardsley said.
According to a budget summary included in today’s agenda, the county has year-long agreements with all eight bargaining units representing their employees — and all of them are expiring at some point in 2023.
A 2% COLA was included in the FY 22/23 labor agreement, but union members say their pay is still not competitive with neighboring counties. The current contract is set to expire at the end of this month, according to SEIU 1021 Field Representative Patrick Hickey, but so far the county has not yet made an offer — and the union is pushing for the inclusion of another COLA to offset the impacts of inflation.
“It’s been incredibly difficult for me and my family,” said Tyler Kaeser, who described himself as a recent hire in the environmental health department. Kaeser said he and his wife are both working full time, but they’re still stuck “choosing between groceries and rent.”
Other SEIU 1021 members pointed out the high number of vacant county jobs and the frequency with which Mendocino County employees take jobs in other counties as evidence that wages are too low to be considered competitive.
At one point in the discourse, 5th District Supervisor Ted Williams asked staff to quantify the fiscal impacts of a COLA for SEIU 1021’s workers. Deputy CEO Sara Pierce estimated that a 1% COLA would cost the county $1.3 million in general fund dollars, and CEO Darcie Antle estimated that making room in the budget for a 3% COLA would require the county to terminate 33 full-time jobs.
Much of the dialogue revolved around ideas for cutting costs and increasing revenue. Some of the ideas floated included selling some of the 80 properties owned by the county, which would generate revenue via the sale while also reducing maintenance costs. Similar logic was applied to the county’s 300+ fleet of vehicles. Staff also discussed the possibility of outsourcing fleet operations to Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and replacing some county vehicles with electric cars to reduce maintenance and fuel costs.
The board also showed interest in increasing tax revenues associated with short-term rentals and residential structures not registered with the county. The supervisors suggested that some short-term rental owners may not be paying transient occupancy taxes (TOT) to the county, and the tax rate on those rentals could be increased. They also floated the idea of a request for proposals (RFP) to identify accessory dwelling units and unpermitted residential structures that are not currently subject to property tax assessments in order to tax those units under existing law.
During a subsequent agenda item, they also explored the possibility of merging the Air Quality Management District with a neighboring county such as Lake or Sonoma to leverage their hiring capacities as well as the cost-savings potential.