Fact checking: Recruiting firms is not that easy
Editor's note: This is the fourth and final in a series of articles about issues that have emerged in the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors election.
A job well paid is nice work if you can get it. And if you get it in Del Norte County, you probably work for the government.
Here, governments of one form or another pay 50 percent of all earnings, according to data from the U.S. Bureau for Economic Analysis.
Another 15 percent of wages are paid by health care or social assistance providers.
“Private sector jobs” is something of a mantra for those campaigning to be Del Norte’s top elected officials. Three county supervisors are up against four challengers in Districts 1, 2 and 5. The election is Tuesday.
Supervisors are paid an average of $39,000 a year to oversee the county’s general operations and finances.
The candidates in District 1 are two-term Supervisor Leslie McNamer, Roger Gitlin and Crescent City Councilwoman Donna Westfall. In District 2: four-term Supervisor Martha McClure and Bill Gray. And in District 5: four-term Supervisor David Finigan and Larry Childs.
By now these candidates have spoken: in public forums and in this newspaper, through slogans delivered to doorsteps, on hundreds of primary-colored signs planted in lush spring lawns. Ideological distinctions have been amply drawn.
They’ve all promised to deliver on policies that nurture economic development.
A local government agency was created 40 years ago to pursue exactly this goal.
These days the county pays the lion’s share of the Tri-Agency for Economic Development’s $100,000 annual budget, also financed by the city of Crescent City and the Harbor District.
Bill Renfroe is the Tri-Agency’s executive director: he’s that guy with a shock of white hair, oozing affability, working out of an H Street office to help existing businesses stay in business; encourage new companies to open; and coordinate economic development activities with outside organizations.
His three-pronged mission really boils down to three words: private sector jobs.
Some 22 business representatives have contacted the Tri-Agency office this year, Renfroe said. None bit.
Del Norte’s remote, beautiful, disaster-prone and mostly government-owned geography poses problems for a lot of large-scale private enterprises. Take a yogurt manufacturer whose interest curdled because a big plant’s demand for milk would have vastly outpaced local cows’ ability to produce it.
“Working in California poses its own set of problems, particularly for us because we are so close to Oregon,” Renfroe said. “The regulatory environment across the state line is much less strenuous.”
The taxes are also lower, or non-existent.
What if, as District 2 challenger Bill Gray has proposed, we sweetened the deal on this side of the Smith through tax breaks or other incentives?
“We don’t have incentives we can really offer,” Renfroe said, explaining that the most obvious option would be to reduce property taxes for a desirable business, giving it an economic incentive to make Del Norte work.
While not impossible, that would be very complicated, he said.
All of Del Norte’s property taxes go into one $3 million bucket, which is then divvied up between 22 public entities: the county, the school district, the city, the harbor, the Healthcare District, the library district, the fire districts, and myriad community service districts among them.
Representatives from all these bodies would need to agree in order to reduce or eliminate one business’s property taxes. And consensus could be hard to come by, especially if the benefitting industry generated a greater demand for public services without kicking in additional tax revenue to pay for them.
Del Norte’s selling points are water, affordable electricity, sewage capacity and plenty of broadband connectivity, Renfroe said.
And plants: lots of plants.
The Tri-Agency recently helped secure a state grant to pay for biomass research. Officials hope the findings will lay the foundation for a sustainable, resource-based private industry, whereby the brush annually cut and burned off of forest land would be collected, shipped out and transformed into ethanol, a valuable fuel product.
“We are cutting edge on this,” Renfroe said, adding it will likely take years to address all the logistical and regulatory questions an energy company would want answered before setting up shop.
Tourism promotion is another staple of the effort to diversify Del Norte’s public sector-heavy economy.
Long-time resident Bob Berkowitz is the executive director of the Visitor’s Bureau, another joint initiative by local governments to pump up the economy through marketing and helpfulness. (Berkowitz is also a paid political consultant on McNamer and Finigan’s campaigns.)
For 33 years he’s seen Del Norte’s economy falteringly change with the times, as local leaders struggle to make policies that do the same.
“The economy is fluid... When Walmart came in, people thought it would be the absolute death of the community," Berkowitz said. "And before the prison came here, the slogan was: 'The last person out of Del Norte County turn out the lights.' We were that close to insolvency. Each time crises have happened, the community has found a way to reinvent itself and that’s a continuing process. It doesn’t happen all at once. It happens in stages."
Political make-ups, on the other hand, can change in a day. A majority of the county’s elected leadership is at stake on Tuesday.
For more on what the candidates stand for, check out Triplicate.com. There’s a link dedicated to Elections 2012 coverage.
The primary round of voting for U.S. president, U.S. senator, U.S. representative and state assemblymember is also on the ballot Tuesday, along with an initiative to raise taxes on cigarettes and another to reduce the number of years someone can serve in the state Legislature from 14 to 12. The official voter guide is online at http://voterguide.sos.ca.gov/
• Internet: The Triplicate’s recent forum featuring the seven candidates for three seats on the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors can be watched on-line at triplicate.com by going to “2012 Local Elections.”
An audio-only version is available at the same site.
• On TV: The forum will be replayed on Charter Cable Channel 4 tonight, Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m.
• Past articles: To read the Triplicate’s already published election stories, go to “2012 Local Elections” at triplicate.com.