The 2016-17 Del Norte County Grand Jury report released Monday focused on challenges faced by the Klamath Fire Protection District and the Del Norte County Code Enforcement Division as well as the lack of housing for the community’s homeless.
The 25-page report also includes reviews of the Del Norte County Jail, Alder Conservation Camp, Bar-O Boys Camp, the Del Norte Juvenile Detention facility and Pelican Bay State Prison. Under state law, the grand jury is tasked with inquiring into the condition and management of the public prisons within Del Norte County, according to the report.
Nineteen county residents make up the grand jury.
The Klamath Fire Protection District’s two main challenges are a lack of adequate funding and difficulty recruiting volunteers, according to the grand jury report.
During their investigation, grand jury members visited all the fire districts in Del Norte County and received tours. They also attended two Klamath Fire Protection District board meetings, interviewed multiple board members as well as the fire chief. The grand jury also met with a past and present Del Norte County supervisor, representatives of CALFIRE and the Del Norte County Auditor’s office.
The grand jury members also reviewed Del Norte Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) reports, researched articles written in the Triplicate and viewed county board of supervisors meetings with discussions pertaining to the Klamath Fire Protection District.
According to the report, the Klamath Fire Protection District is funded based on a growth rate from property tax rolls. Since the growth rate in Klamath has declined in the past several years, the KFPD receives a low share.
The KFPD receives a voter-approved fire assessment from properties on the tax roll. Increasing that assessment would require another vote by property owners. KFPD has no current grants, receives limited donations and currently holds no fundraising events, according to the report.
As for a lack of volunteers, the grand jury report noted that the difficulty in recruiting firefighters may lie in Klamath’s status as a “bedroom community” where a significant portion of its residents work in Crescent City. The report also points out that there aren’t a lot of businesses in Klamath to “pull volunteers from.”
Since there aren’t many active volunteers, the burden of maintenance and emergency calls fall on
the fire chief, according to the grand jury report. Meanwhile many duties that a secretary would perform, including recruiting volunteers, falls to the chair of the KFPD board, according to the report.
And while CALFIRE is available as backup in the Klamath area, they are seasonal and guaranteeing the agency’s presence at the Klamath station would cost about $250,000 per year, according to the grand jury report.
The KFPD Board, LAFCO and the Yurok Tribe has met several times, most recently in April, to try to find solutions to these challenges, according to the report. The tribe agreed to honor any service agreements and memorandums of understanding with KFPD as well as encourage their employees to volunteer by allowing them paid time off.
To remedy its challenges, the Grand Jury recommended KFPD hire a part-time secretary and a temporary assistant chief to help recruit and train volunteers. Jurors also suggested the KFPD hold a recruitment campaign using fliers, brochures and posters provided by LAFCO as well as “get an understanding” from local businesses in order to recruit their employees as volunteer firefighters without a reduction in pay.
The Grand Jury also recommended KFPD work with the Yurok Tribe’s grant writers to pursue grant funding, seek donations from tax-exempt properties and hold fundraising activities, according to the report.
The Grand Jury also suggested the KFPD Board attempt to raise enough money to pay for the $250,000 a year to guarantee CALFIRE’s presence in Klamath year-round.
“In order for this to happen there would need to be a proven income stream three years prior to the program starting,” the report states. “The $250,000 would be a yearly fee to keep this program going.”
The Grand Jury’s report on the Klamath Fire Protection District closed with investigators applauding the work its volunteers, board members and staff do when responding to emergencies.
“Without them, people’s safety in Del Norte County would be put in jeopardy,” the report states.
With an annual budget of $14,500, the amount of dollars the Code Enforcement Division receives is insufficient to battling blight in Del Norte County, the Grand Jury found.
In its report, the Grand Jury recommended increasing Code Enforcement’s budget allocation, increasing community education about proper trash disposal and complete a revision of the County Nuisance Code with a mission statement and “clear definitions.”
The Grand Jury also recommends establishing an agreement between the Code Enforcement Division and the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority for a set amount of financial assistance.
The Code Enforcement Division is currently investigating 100 open cases, said Community Development Director Heidi Kunstal. Out of that 100, 70 are active, she said.
Most of its funding comes from the county’s general fund, although the Solid Waste Management Authority will ask Code Enforcement Officer Dominic Mello to handle occasional assignments, Kunstal said.
“Our operating budget as far as Dominic’s salary, that’s all general fund,” Kunstal said. “We have money coming through the Abandoned Vehicle Abatement Program, run through the Solid Waste Management Authority.”
The Code Enforcement Division also oversees the county’s Abandoned Vehicle Abatement program. The program’s budget is about $23,000 annually and is funded via $1 for every vehicle registered in Del Norte County. Del Norte receives that funding from the California Department of Motor Vehicles quarterly, Kunstal said. The Solid Waste Management Authority also acts as the Abandoned Vehicle Abatement Authority.
The Grand Jury noted the Community Development Department is currently revising the county nuisance code to define blight and abandoned vehicles.
The average case takes two years to complete, although the length of time varies, according to the report. Dollars collected through fines and liens are deposited into the county general fund.
The Grand Jury suggested the county establish an account that would fund abatements if additional funding were found. The Grand Jury recommended depositing dollars collected from fines and liens into that account rather than into the general fund.
Kunstal said she glanced at the Grand Jury Report and it appears to be a fair account of the Code Enforcement Division.
“We’re legally required to respond within a certain number of days,” she said. “At this point, I don’t have anything official other than we have received it.”
After speaking with representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Rural Human Services, the Grand Jury found that “there is no formal emergency housing for the homeless in the County of Del Norte.”
The Grand Jury report gave a breakdown of the type of assistance HUD offers — primarily through a first-come first-served waiting list for low-income individuals and families as well as people who are homeless. Recipients of HUD assistance and housing vouchers must be connected to a mailing address and have the ability to pay rent and utilities, according to the Grand Jury report.
Jurors also asked about homeless assistance and housing availability in Del Norte County.
“It was stressed by HUD staff that HUD is not the entity that has the answer for this demographic,” the report stated. “HUD is a long-term housing plan. It was mentioned there may be plans for emergency housing by a coalition of organizations and private individuals. HUD is strictly limited to its role of long-term housing....”
The Grand Jury visited RHS at the recommendation of HUD representatives. The private nonprofit offers assistance to low income and homeless people through its Food Bank as well as its domestic violence shelter, the Harrington House. The Grand Jury report notes that housing the Harrington House consists of “very specific parameters.”
An RHS representative stated there is planning and ongoing communication with other agencies concerning housing assistance for the homeless as well as potential state grants, but none have been released for homeless assistance.
In its reports on the various correctional facilities within Del Norte County, the Grand Jury recommended the county investigate the possibility of offsetting the jail population by relocating some of its inmates to the Alder Conservation Camp through the County Borders program.
Jurors recommended the county hire an additional correction officer for each shift at the Del Norte County Jail and to continue to monitor a leaky window in the commander’s office.
The Grand Jury also felt that Bar-O Boys Camp and the Del Norte County Juvenile Detention Facility were under-utilized. Jurors recommended the county make other juvenile courts both in the state and elsewhere aware of the Bar-O Boys Camp. Jurors also recommended the board of supervisors have the Bar-O Boys Camp barracks, lower gym and pottery area inspected and any necessary repairs made.
The Grand Jury Report did not list any findings or recommendations connected with Pelican Bay State Prison although Jurors toured the facility as per its state mandate. Grand Jury Foreperson Jeffery Corning could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
To view the full Grand Jury Report, visit www.co.del-norte.ca.us/departments/grand-jury.