Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – Nearly 100 people turned out in McKinleyville recently to learn about the county budget and help set priorities for how tax dollars should be spent.
The crowd, made of mostly McKinleyville residents, was the largest county officials have seen since starting what it calls the Humboldt County Community Budget Roadshow, during which residents weigh in on the county’s $377.5 million annual budget.
Opening the Feb. 28 roadshow, Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg explained that the county wanted to focus on the topic of “service delivery.”
As an unincorporated community, McKinleyville doesn’t have a traditional city government.
“Since we’re not a city, we can still have the same services as a city, right? We can have fire, roads. We can have quality parks and rec,” Sundberg said.
The quality of those services depends in part on the health of the economy, which County Administrative Office Amy Nilsen said faces an uncertain future.
“Going forward, Measure S [cannabis grow tax} and the cannabis industry as a whole are uncertain,” Nilsen said. “We simply don’t have the data to give us a good indication of what may come next.”
As for the national economy, there’s good news and bad news.
“On the national level, the economy is doing well. Unemployment continues to decline and wages are slowly beginning to increase, and consumer confidence is at an all-time high,” Nilsen said. “The economy is currently in its ninth year of expansion and all signs point to that continuing next year.”
However, recessions typically happen every five years and, according to Nilsen, the last nine years “has been the longest period of growth in our history.”
Nilsen said the next recession could come in the summer or fall of 2019.
For the county, a recession could result in a double-whammy – revenues go down, while demand for services go up.
To prepare for a downturn, the proposed 2017/18 budget includes a $500,000 contribution to a rainy day fund. Nilsen noted that this is well below the desired contribution of $10.9 million as called for in the board’s adopted policies.
After listening to presentations about the budget, attendees were divided up into small groups that sat at round tables and discussed issues with individual county department heads.
John Ford, the director of Planning and Building, listened to several McKinleyville residents give input on spending for his department.
John Corbett, who is a member of the McKinleyville Community Services District Board of Directors, said he appreciated the department standing behind the town’s growth blueprint.
“What has gone well has been much greater respect and adherence to the McKinleyville Community Plan,” Corbett told Ford.
Craig Tucker told Ford that one of his department’s top priorities should be getting the resources to have code enforcement go after all the illegal cannabis grows in Humboldt County.
“We’ve got 11,000 unpermitted grows,” Tucker said.
At a table hosted by Public Works Director Tom Mattson, there was a discussion about the future of the Hammond Trail.
“We need to protect the Hammond Bridge,” Corbett told Mattson.
The pedestrian bridge crosses the Mad River at the south end of Fischer Road, connecting the Hammond Trail to the Arcata Bottom.
The old railroad trestle, however, is slowly rusting away. The county has determined that it must be replaced.
“It’s about a $4 million job,” Mattson said. “We are continuing to look for money to replace the bridge.”
Residents will have more upcoming opportunities to give input on the county budget.
A roadshow will be held at the Benbow Inn, 445 Lake Benbow Dr. near Garberville on Thursday, March 8. A meet-and-greet begins at 5:30 p.m. with the meeting beginning at 6 p.m.
A roadshow will be held at the Sequoia Conference Center, 901 Myrtle Ave. in Eureka on Monday, March 12, with a meet-and-greet at 5:30 p.m. and the meeting at 6 p.m,
The final roadshow will be at the Willow Creek Community Services District, 135 Willow Rd. in Willow Creek on Thursday, March 22 starting at 9:30 a.m.
The Board of Supervisors will hold a budget hearing and may adopt the budget in June.