The county’s mid-year budget report provides insight into the accomplishments, challenges
Editor’s note: The words mid-year budget report might have a tendency to result in eyes glazing over, but such was definitely not the case during the Plumas County Board of Supervisors’ March 7 meeting. Rather than dry numbers, County Administrative Officer Debra Lucero turned the report into exactly that: a report on the county and its various departments. Plumas News is printing the bulk of Lucero’s narrative here, which she read aloud during the board meeting. It’s a good snapshot of both the accomplishments and the challenges facing the county. Following is Lucero’s report:
Plumas County continues to move forward despite five years of turmoil that began in 2019 as new financial software was being installed. These years included a worldwide lingering pandemic (Feb. 2020); the North Complex Fire (Aug. 2020); the Dixie Fire (July 2021); a significant cyber attack (Nov. 2021); and the institutional knowledge drain that resulted in the loss of 15 department heads over that same five-year period including a County Administrator.
It has been a tumultuous time yet our staff members have done incredible feats to keep things moving along and budgets on target. Plumas County, with a population of 19,915 has only one incorporated city – Portola. That means, everywhere else, we plow the roads. We fix the potholes. We run the airports. We answer emergency calls. We respond to disaster. We collect taxes. We run the jail. We run the public transit system. We assess properties. We run lighting districts. We run elections. We process documents. We maintain parks. We assist seniors. We assist veterans. We operate public buildings including memorial halls in each of our communities. We run the fair. We help indigent individuals with housing, medical needs, behavioral health concerns, food and other necessities. We assist justice-involved individuals. And much, much more. It’s really quite amazing – all the different aspects of County government that are achieved with just 319 people (we have 405 positions 86 are vacant).
Our mission is to achieve a healthy, safe and vibrant community for our residents. Today, we are assessing our financial situation after years of turmoil:
- We are looking to increase wages for our employees, our most valuable resource, as we stabilize and understand where we are financially. This is essential and one of the top priorities for the Board of Supervisors. We need to attract talent to our county staff.
- We are identifying the problems with our financial system to determine if a complete reinstall of the ERP Financial Munis system is necessary or we can correct issues from a certain point in time. We are gearing up for intense Munis Financial Training (Auditor- Controller/Treasurer-Tax Collector) and HR/Payroll offices.
- We are instituting Finance Officer trainings for departments beginning in the next Fiscal Year on Munis, Project and Grant Management modules, general accounting practices and more.
- We are assessing our energy usage of all the county buildings because nearly every department saw a substantial increase in PG&E bills – some up to 40%.
- We are looking to consolidate our purchasing to get better deals and create less internal work and contracts. We want to buy local whenever possible and support our local community.
For review, the County has 405 allocated positions with 319 positions filled. This is a 22% vacancy rate with some of the highest vacancies in the Jail (55% vacancy rate); followed by Behavioral Health (32% vacancy rate); Social Services (28% vacancy rate); and Public Health (25% vacancy rate). While the Sheriff’s Department only has 5 vacancies, it should be noted there are extenuating circumstances:
- ‐ 2 personnel on light duty
- ‐ 1 out due to injury
- ‐ 3 in training
- ‐ 1 in Academy
- ‐ 2 resignations
- ‐ 1 transferring out to another agency
Despite staffing difficulties, there have been many accomplishments in County Departments:
- Agriculture Dept. – Secured two state contracts for noxious weed control for FY 23-24 totaling $84,595.
- Assessor Dept. – Scanning project of all real property files is complete, freeing up storage space, allowing single copy records to be backed up, improving office efficiency and customer service.
- Auditor-Controller – Getting invoices/bills caught up and paid due to loss of previous Auditor-Controller and the second in command and staffing shortages.
- Behavioral Health – Despite lower clinical staffing levels, BH has continued to provide services to our community without a waiting list. BH has continued supportive housing at the same level as before the Dixie Fire and expanded its Transitional Sober Living Environment by two units. BH opened the Quincy Wellness Center (formerly the Drop-In Center) in a more central location and is in talks to provide services back in Greenville and its other three wellness centers which are well utilized by the public.
- Building – Filling positions and getting staff up to speed on Building Codes, processes, inspections, etc. On the code enforcement side, there has been some resolution to a couple of long-standing, difficult-to-enforce violations. Code Enforcement is working with the County Counsel’s office to implement a receivership program for properties that have egregious violations, but where owners are either deceased or otherwise unable to deal with and correct the violations on their property. Also, helped Sheriff’s Dept. abate three illegal cannabis grow sites in the East County. Under the Abandoned Vehicle Abatement program, 60 vehicles have been towed to date and funds have been spent down and the county and City of Portola participate in the Abandoned Vehicle Abatement program funded solely by $1 per vehicle registration charge.
- County Counsel – Settlement of the PG&E lawsuit this year. Assisted Risk Management through the transition to new leadership. Assisted the Board during the absence of a County Administrative Officer.
- District Attorney – 1) 943 cases were reviewed resulting in 5,130 court appearances (excluding juvenile cases). 2) No conviction in a case prosecuted by the DA has been reversed on appeal in 12 years. 3) The Alternative Sentencing Program, which is award- winning, administers the Drug and Mental Health courts – each saving Plumas County tens of thousands of dollars and, more importantly, countless lives. 4) Two talented and experienced attorneys have joined the DA’s staff after eight months of working with just one prosecutor; not a single court date was missed during that time.
- Environmental Health – Great team right now despite losing six staff members for various reasons, including the director, in a six-month period from late 2020 to early 2021. The goal of EH is to protect people from harm and hazards from the food they eat, to the pools they swim in, while ensuring fuel they put in their cars and the waste they flush down the toilet does not get into their drinking water, and EH ensures that their drinking water is safe. EH is a behind-the-scenes kind of department.
- Clerk/Record – Elections – Mid-year-to-date, 7,615 documents have been processed. 70 marriage licenses have been issued; 11 civil marriage ceremonies performed; 188 certified birth certificates given out, which continue to increase due to the Real ID requirements through DMV and travel restrictions being lifted due to Covid.
- Facility Services – All but one allocated position is filled but low wages continue to be an issue. Many projects have been completed from HVAC systems being replaced to the installation of a pickle ball court.
- Fair – In the past 14 years, there have only been two that there was not a surplus. They were small to modest but still surpluses. Between the North Complex Fire and the Dixie Fire Camps, the Fair realized revenues of over $1 million. Add to that a special one-time allotment from the State Fairs and Expositions of $780,000 and the Fair has enough money to make improvements throughout the facility while still contributing to the General Fund.
- Human Resources – 1) HR has maintained cohesive and professional personnel in the department over the past two years 2) Moved to a new East Quincy location 3) Continue with ongoing recruitments and weekly new hire orientations to fill positions 4) Implemented 85/15 split for employer contribution for health insurance rates 5) $1,500 one-time lump sum ARPA payments to essential workers, excluding department heads and elected officials 5) Offset sick leave using ARPA funds to pay for the COVID sick leave and tracked/approved the paperwork 6) DROC logistic chief operations, completed FEMA project reports. Managed 3 DROC projects 7) Re-organized the Crafts & Trades unit into their own bargaining unit – Public Works 8) Re-organized Child Support Services department with new job descriptions and wage increases 9) Developed Director of Risk Management and Safety position 10) Developed Grant Manager position to assist with grant funding opportunities for the County.
- Information Technology – Moving the county towards a security-first mindset while still promoting innovation has been the greatest accomplishment. Education of county employees to prevent breaches has been generally positively received and has already begun to make a huge difference in our last line of defense against would-be attackers.
- Library – Receiving the Stronger Together: Improving Library Access and finalizing the RFP and contract with the vendor to buy a bookmobile that will be used for patrons in Greenville and the surrounding areas.
- Museum – Working with the Museum Association to provide historical research and outreach for its Grave Occasion Cemetery Tour & Dinner held in September at the historic Prattville Cemetery on the shores of Lake Almanor. Despite having just one staff person, the Museum continues to provide services, documents, photos, and information to writers, scholars, filmmakers and educators and has worked with numerous families to collect and preserve their Plumas County stories and artifacts over the past several months.
- Planning – The processing of a record number of building permits and other ministerial and discretionary permits with revenue above forecast, even with staffing shortage.
- Probation – Establishing the pretrial program and moving forward with several cliet programming projects such as the first Probation transitional living program, despite the limited staffing.
- Public Health – 1) Still managing COVID-19 through education, testing, vaccination and treatment, making sure those who qualify for treatment – get it. 2) Home visiting, oral health, CalFresh, and services to veterans and seniors are expanding service and are on track to reach or exceed previous activity levels by the end of the fiscal year 3) The agency published an update of its strategic plan for 2022-2027 https://plumascounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/44000/PCPHA-Strategic-Plan-Update- 2022-PUBLIC-VERSION_121322?bidId=. 4) An update of the 2020 Community Health Assessment capturing the effects of COVID-19 and wildfires in the years 2020-2022 is complete and will be published soon. 5) The Community Health Improvement Plan has been launched and is expected be completed in June 2023.
- Public Works (please see more on Public Works in CHALLENGES section below)
- Risk Management – Moving this position forward and creating good/positive relationships between the county departments and our insurance companies.
- Sheriff – Continue to provide a reasonable level of service with the lack of staffing.
- Treasurer-Tax Collector – No information received.
- ‐ Ag Department – Difficulty meeting the requirements of the state and federal programs. This has been a problem for several years – meeting the County’s Maintenance of Effort that is required by code – mostly due to staffing levels and pay.
- ‐ Assessor – Challenged in determining values of real and personal property, changes of ownership, Homeowner’s Exemptions, etc. while having 2 vacant positions.
- ‐ Auditor-Controller – Lack of trained staff, procedures, knowledge of financial software.
- ‐ Behavioral Health – In the 22-23 budget year, there are 46 approved and funded positions with 34 filled at mid-year. Without adequate clinical staffing levels, this decreases our ability to provide services and to generate revenue. Our staff have to do “double duty” which adds to stress levels.
- ‐ Building – 1) Need for a functioning Code Enforcement software program could greatly reduce the time officers spend on documentation with multiple programs and would allow them to handle more cases while mainstreaming the documentation process. 2) Camping, typically the use of RV’s not related to the Dixie Fire, continues to take a great deal of Code Enforcement time to investigate and enforce. 3)The Dixie Fire has produced several additional code enforcement cases to an already large workload. As time goes on, this is anticipated to become more of a problem. 4) Keeping high-mileage vehicles running and safe for operation. 4) Maintaining contracts for towing companies has been difficult for a variety of reasons. 5) The only approved dismantler in the county lost their business in the Dixie Fire.
- ‐ County Counsel – The number of new department heads who are unfamiliar with county policies, procedures and contracts have increased the number of hours County Counsel has needed to train.
- ‐ District Attorney – 1) The pandemic and Dixie Fire have elevated the level of struggle we see in defendants suffering from mental health and/or substance abuse issues. This taxes our traditional prosecution platform as well as the Alternative Sentencing Program. 2) The transition and understaffing in the Sheriff’s Office is detrimentally impacting other criminal justice partners and the public’s safety. 3) Support departments are allowed to provide support (in our efforts to directly serve the taxpayer) as they see fit and without consistency, oversight or evaluation.
- ‐ Environmental Health – Recruiting and retaining qualified employees
- ‐ Facility Services – Increased costs for cleaning supplies, fuel, electricity; HVAC units reliant on R22 refrigerant are obsolete and will need to be replaced; Greenville Trailer Park continues to run over-budget.
- ‐ Fair – The top challenge is time. There are only two full-time people. We’re looking for people to train.
- ‐ Human Resources – 1) Munis transition with limited resources to assist with the increased workload; 2) Unrealistic expectations of what the HR staff can accomplish with our current workloads 3) Departments who continue to ignore the rules regarding personnel matters, policies and procedures.
- ‐ Information Technology – Completion of the ERP Finance and HR/Payroll systems has been a primary challenge.
- ‐ Library – Recruitment for the unfilled but extremely necessary Librarian position; despite this, our staff have managed to expand our programs and services and pursued several grants for the fiscal year.
- ‐ Museum – Lack of personnel at the Museum and balancing the Museum and Museum Association workloads with only one person on staff who performs the work of three different full-time positions. Balancing administrative duties with the museum exhibit and collections duties while being tied to the front reception counter for the most part, has been challenging, and some duties have had to take a back seat resulting in a backlog of collections. A full-time Assistant Director position is needed.
- ‐ Planning – 1) Unstaffed with only 2 of 4 technical planning positions filled, as a result, difficult to keep up with workload without working additional hours 2) Significant amount of time (60-70%) Planning Director devotes to wildfire recovery takes away form the many other Planning Department roles and responsibilities 3) Fiscal grants management working with the Auditor’s office
- ‐ Probation – Of 17 positions allocated, 6 are vacant and one Full-time equivalent is on extended leave. None of the part-time positions are filled. Staff turnover has become a major issue in the past two years with several key positions, name Deputy Probation Officer III’s leaving the department for better opportunities. Fewer officers means covering challenging workloads, leading to burnout. This, paired with some of the lowest rates of pay for Probation Officers in the state, makes it difficult to attract qualified applicants and retain them for any significant period of time.
- ‐ Public Health – Staff retention is likely to continue to be a challenge; current staff are experiencing burnout and feeling pressure to do more work with less support and no additional compensation.
- -PUBLIC WORKS is facing a staffing shortage, the oversight of a new jail and costs related to the Dixie Fire. It is also responsible for the following :
- Beckwourth Community Service Area (BCSA)
- Crescent Mills Lighting District (CMLD)
- Plumas County Engineering Department
- Plumas County Flood Control and Conservation District
- Plumas County Transportation Commission
- Quincy Lighting District
- Department of Public Works Solid Waste Division
- Walker Ranch Community Services District
- ‐ Risk Management – This is a new position with limited direction at this point.
- ‐ Sheriff – Greatest challenge continues to be the lack of staffing and poor wages.
- ‐ Social Services – Critical impact of lack of staff is particularly evident in our Eligibility and Employment Services units. Despite this, the unit continues to meet the eligibility needs of the community.
- ‐ Treasurer-Tax Collector – No information received
The County of Plumas is in a good financial position at this point in time based on all the available information. The Mid-Year Review was an opportunity to interact with the County Department Heads, learn their style of reporting and take a look at the various aspects of each department. It’s a prelude to the budget process that is coming for FY 23-24.