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Jail loan, fiscal instability, lead to worries about future treatment options

A sign reading Mendocino County Sheriff Coroner Maximum Security Detention Facility on a chain link fence beneath rolls of razor wire.
Matthew LaFever
Mendocino County Jail.

The Board of Supervisors is receiving the first quarter budget report today, which includes a recommendation to reclaim two million dollars of PG&E settlement money that had been set aside for emergency medical services and to reduce carbon pollution. Last week, CEO Darcie Antle told the Board that she doesn’t expect the county to be able to fund a water agency for another four or five years. “I do not believe your financial situation will improve in two years,” she informed the Supervisors.

Despite this precarious fiscal situation, the Board voted unanimously on Halloween to borrow up to $7 million from Measure B, the voter-approved mental health tax initiative, to fund a behavioral health wing at the new jail. That is all the $6.3 million in Measure B’s unallocated funds, plus some from the $5.8 million prudent reserve. Details about a repayment plan or the interest rate were not included in the decision.There was no recommendation from the Measure B oversight committee to lend the money for this purpose, as committee member Tom Allman made very clear a week before the Board’s decision.

“All I’m asking this committee to do is tell the Board of Supervisors that we support their endeavor to continue their tenacity and their strength, to finalize and construct a behavioral health wing of the correctional facility for the improvement of the quality of life of victims of mental illness,” he declared. “I’m not asking that we go to the Board and ask for money.”

Shannon Riley is the deputy city manager for the City of Ukiah and a Measure B oversight committee member. She was one of two votes against approving Allman’s statement. She doesn’t feel the loan was handled forthrightly. She noted that the original Measure B ordinance included the requirement for an oversight advisory body, specifically for the purpose of overseeing the finances of the tax initiative and making recommendations to the Board of Supervisors about how to spend the funds. “What actually went before the Supervisors not only was not a recommendation, but was not even discussed by the Measure B committee,” she said. “So that circumventing of the oversight committee feels really irresponsible to me.”

Measure B specifically includes a provision for drug treatment services. A Grand Jury report last year noted that the oversight committee’s strategic plan, known as the Kemper Report, recommended that about $750,000 a year be devoted to substance use disorder treatment. But in spite of the current crisis in opioid addiction, the investigation found that, “no funds have been dedicated to addiction treatment.” In its findings, “The Grand Jury determined this to be a serious oversight.”

Jacque Williams is the Executive Director of the Ford Street Project, a nonprofit that specializes in treating substance use disorder and recovery. She submitted a proposal for a sober living facility that the Board turned down, in spite of receiving a recommendation from the oversight committee to fund it. Now, she’s changing her approach. She said the biggest need in the community at this time is withdrawal management, even more than the sober living expansion she was proposing. “The six beds we have currently don’t touch the need,” she reflected. “So we’re going to have to look at repurposing our current sober living environment and use it exclusively for withdrawal management. This was a part of our plan, but we were hoping we’d have another sober living environment so we wouldn't have to disrupt services. This disrupts services.” She added that she will be negotiating with the Probation Department and the Public Defender to end county contracts for offering sober living accommodations early.

The Board turned down her proposal out of concern that there wouldn’t be enough money to build the long-awaited puff, or psychiatric health facility. The Kemper Report recommended a $5 or $6 million puff, but the Board chose a design that’s closer to $20 million.

The county got a $9.3 million grant from the state Department of Healthcare Services to reimburse the costs of building the puff, which, like the jail, has not yet broken ground. A powerpoint presentation in the Board’s agenda packet from last week states that this money is not certain, as Supervisor John Haschak noted. “That 9.3 could be seven million if we don’t do all the deliverables,” he warned. “And it’s not guaranteed money.”

Williams is skeptical. She’s using the same kind of grant on a state-funded treatment pavilion, and she says the state is doing everything it can to help recipients build the infrastructure where people can be treated. “There’s a bunch of experts that are available to us, so if and when you run into an issue, they’re pretty dedicated to try and help you keep moving ahead,” she said. “So I’m having a hard time imagining how the county won’t be successful in the completion of their construction project.”

Williams and Riley both believe the current jail is out of compliance with state mandates, and that it needs to be rectified. But Riley is frustrated that the Board bypassed the oversight committee so thoroughly. “If we’re not able to oversee the funds in a transparent way, and if we’re not making recommendations that are even entertained by the Board of Supervisors, I don’t see what our role is,” she said bluntly. And she is “absolutely worried” about the county’s ability to pay the money back. “There was no plan for the repayment of it,” she pointed out. Staff at the county has been tasked with developing that repayment plan. But we have no idea what that will look like. And given the county's budget situation and their other financial obligations, I do not have a high level of confidence that that money is going to come back to Measure B anytime soon. Which compromises future projects.”

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.