County crunches Jefferson numbers

By Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate March 03, 2014 06:58 pm

Analysis looks mainly at what California is providing

California provides more total funding for county services, schools and transportation projects than is generated locally in Del Norte, officials said at a workshop Thursday focusing on the Jefferson state proposal.

County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina, the director of Health and Human Resources, the sheriff and representatives from the city, the school district and the Local Transportation Commission gave the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors an idea of how much of their funding comes from the state.

But what started as a presentation of numbers turned into a verbal clash between Yreka pilot Mark Baird, co-founder of the current effort to withdraw from California, and supervisors David Finigan and Martha McClure. The altercation prompted local Jefferson Declaration Committee members to walk out.

“We walked out because we were insulted and Mark was insulted,” said Aaron Funk, county coordinator for the Del Norte County Jefferson Declaration Committee.

Baird spoke at a town hall meeting at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds on Feb. 4. The Board of Supervisors, after discussing the issue at four consecutive meetings, voted 3-2 Tuesday to place an advisory measure on the June ballot asking voters if supervisors should support the state of Jefferson.

More than $34 million of the county government’s $102 million budget comes from state funding, according to the county’s report. Del Norte also receives roughly $14.13 million in federal funding, approximately $2.71 million of which is filtered through the state and pays for certain programs and grants, Sarina said. About $16.68 million is generated by local property and sales taxes, he said. 

When broken down by household, Sarina said going by 2012 census information, the 9,900 households in the county generate an average of about $1,600 in tax revenue and receive $3,457 in state funding, $1,153 in federal funding and $274 in federal money passed through the state.

If the county became part of a new state, Sarina said, its Board of Supervisors would have to oversee disseminating assets and liabilities.

“For our total budget, a larger percentage right now is state funding,” he said, adding that the county didn’t have the time or resources to put together a full financial impact analysis of separating from California. “What we do know is in order to provide services at the level we’re at right now, that state funding would have to be backfilled with funding through a new state. Is that possible? Yes, I’m sure there are some possibilities. What they will be? We won’t know at this time.”

State and federal funding is relied on heaviest in the departments that aren’t part of the county’s general fund, Sarina said.

The Del Norte County Department of Health and Human Services is the largest department not funded by the county’s general fund. About $18 million of its budget comes from state funding, said Director Gary Blatnick. The department’s total budget is about $34 million.

Del Norte County is mandated by the state of California to provide programs under the Health and Human Services Department, Blatnick said. This includes MediCal, food stamps or CalFresh, and the CalWorks cash assistance and job training program, he said.

“Without that state funding we could not operate any of the programs we currently have,” Blatnick said. “A different state, or someone else, would have to administer these programs and (they) would have to find that $18 million to do it.”

When it comes to transportation, about half of the funding spent on road projects in California is generated through taxes coming from urban areas, said Tamera Leighton, executive director of the Local Transportation Commission. These urban areas are known as “self-help regions,” she said, and Del Norte is not among them.

Nearly all of Del Norte’s infrastructure funding comes from the state or federal governments, Leighton said. One of those projects, the bridge replacement and road realignment project on U.S. Highway 199, will be paid for with $19.4 million from the State Transportation Improvement Program, 54 percent of which is funded by the state and the rest by the federal government. 

That program is typically used to pay for capacity-increasing projects such as adding lanes to roads in more populated areas, Leighton said. While Del Norte doesn’t have any capacity-increasing needs, it does have other operational needs not met by other funding sources, she said.

“Transportation dollars collected in California are collected from everyone and put into one big pot and then divvied up according to need or volume?” McClure asked.

Yes, said Leighton.

“It’s the reason why our urban areas are consistently clamoring for return-to-source funding,” she said. “That’s because they contribute so much more taxpayer dollars to the pot because they have so many more people. They’re generating a lot more income than we are in our community.”

During the workshop, Finigan gave Jefferson state advocates a chance to offer numbers of their own. County resident Joe Lavender, an aerospace systems engineer, said the combined total budgets for all the counties that would possibly participate in Jefferson state totals to more than $2 billion. Those counties included Del Norte, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama, Trinity and Yuba.

When Funk introduced Baird, pointing out that the Board had invited him, Finigan invited Baird to speak, but asked him to keep to “the spirit of the way the CAO (Sarina) started the presentation.”

Baird replied that he received the county’s financial data the night before the meeting and was not able to study it adequately. He spoke about California’s debt, the abundance of resources Jefferson state would have and claimed that under a proposal to split California into six states, the northern counties would be the wealthiest because of their natural resources.

“Like I said, we just got the information last night at 6 o’clock,” Baird said. “We do know that the timber economy declined 83 percent over the last 20 years. That would be restored. The state’s attorney general assumes the debt would be apportioned on a population basis. We would assume 3 percent of that.”

California’s northern counties have been “regulated out of three of the four businesses that drive this state,” Baird said.

“With the return of responsible regulation and a favorable business climate, those fortunes would reverse immediately,” he said. “This must be about representation because without that there is no economic recovery.”

When Finigan interrupted Baird and attempted to redirect the discussion to the issue of representation in state government, Baird walked out, and his supporters followed.

So far, Siskiyou, Modoc and Glenn counties have supported a withdrawal from California. Tehama County earlier this week chose to place an advisory measure on the ballot asking voters to weigh in on the issue. 

Del Norte’s advisory measure is expected to be on the ballot for the June 3 primary election.