The proposed 2018-19 Calaveras County budget has a structural deficit of $9.261 million, but unexpected revenues including about $6.5 million in Measure C pot farmer taxes have beefed up the general fund balance surplus, according to county staff.
The total budget for the coming fiscal year proposes to spend $169.686 million, about $6 million more than the 2017-18 budget of $163.651 million. The Board of Supervisors and department heads for the Sheriff’s Office, Code Enforcement, and other county agencies this week are in the midst of a multi-day budget hearing in San Andreas.
“This new budget relies heavily on the fund balance,” Tim Lutz, the county administrative officer, said Wednesday. “We won’t have Measure C next year. The Measure C funds help give the county $9.2 million, but this is essentially a $9.2 million structural deficit. We’re covering it with the general fund balance.”
Lutz said many cannabis growers believe the county’s deficit of $9.2 million would be covered by Measure C taxes if the ban on commercial cannabis activities were not in place. Lutz emphasized that is the growers’ argument, and it is not his position.
Lutz said it would be inappropriate for the county administrative officer to take a position on commercial cannabis activities.
‘We don’t want to crash off a cliff’
Jack Garamendi, the District 2 supervisor, said the proposed 2018-19 budget shows the county has a revenues vs. expenditures problem.
“We’re going to have a revenue deficit,” Garamendi said. “Just because we have money today doesn’t mean we’re going to have money tomorrow.”
“We have the Measure C taxes into the 18-19 budget,” Garamendi said. “The question is, what do we do beyond that? About 10 percent of the general fund dollars are from cannabis taxes and fees. Going forward, we don’t want to crash off a cliff.”
County general fund revenues for 2018-19 have dipped to $58.674 million from $60.837 in 2017-18, Lutz said. General fund expenditures for the current fiscal year have totaled $63.173 million, and the proposed budget for 2018-19 includes general fund expenditures of $67.674 million.
Budgets for both years include about $650,000 from two existing medical marijuana dispensaries that predate the 2016 urgency ordinance that allowed for regulated commercial pot activities.
The proposed 2018-19 budget for the Sheriff’s Office is about $18 million, an increase from about $15.6 million in the current fiscal year. Sheriff Rick DiBasilio said Wednesday the increases reflect union raises for his personnel, as well as other union workers countywide, and adding more deputies.
“Total vacancies right now, we have 14,” DiBasilio said. “We’re sending 11 people to the academy.”
Sheriff’s Capt. Jim Macedo told the Board of Supervisors his department’s focus is on increasing sworn patrol officers, because that is where the greatest needs are.
The 2018-19 budget for the Sheriff’s Office includes funding to help pay about $400,000 for a new armored vehicle.
Ban proponent wants to make it permanent
On Tuesday, Bill McManus with the Committee to Ban Commercial Cultivation in Calaveras County said during public comment that the issue of marijuana is continuing to divide the county. He said he wants to see the ban placed on ballots so voters can decide.
“The ban is here and we would like to see it become permanent,” McManus said. “I hope the board will get this on the ballot and get it over with.”
On Wednesday, McManus said he wanted to hear more from department heads, including the Building Department, Code Compliance and the Sheriff’s Office.
“What are the revenue streams for these departments involved in abatement?” McManus said. With DiBasilio seated in the audience behind him, McManus talked about enforcement of the ban since June 7, when it went into full effect countywide. “It wasn’t shock and awe. It was crickets. There were no citations. These revenue streams to clean up the county, these are dry streams right now.”
DiBasilio later told the Board of Supervisors he had deputies doing a marijuana grow abatement Wednesday. He explained it was taking place at a formerly registered pot grow in the Mountain Ranch area.
“They’re out of compliance,” DiBasilio said. “They’re still growing.”
DiBasilio said before noon that deputies were at the site. But he said he did not know the exact location.
‘How powerful one vote can be’
Al Segalla is with the Calaveras County Taxpayers Association, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy group committed to promoting lower taxes and efficiency in local governments. Segalla said he does not like some growers, but he sides with them and others on the question of whether the ban is lawful.
“It’s hard sometimes to stick up for the constitutional rights of people you don’t like,” Segalla said. “Some of the marijuana people are abusive of their neighbors. But the ban is a massive disrespect for the 5th and 14th amendments that protect the rights of life, liberty and property, and the 10th amendment that protects the rights of states and people.”
Pro-ban supporters who cite as their authority the federal war on drugs and treaty powers are off base, he said. That issue has already been resolved by the Supreme Court.
Furthermore, Segalla said, a two-month eligibility window to apply for legal registration in Calaveras County was unconstitutional because it functioned as a de facto restraint of trade.
“You have about 1,000 people thrown out of work suddenly by a 3-2 vote,” Segalls said. “That shows you how powerful one vote can be. There’s a border line between the government doing things for the people and doing things to the people. The ban crosses that border line big time.”
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.