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Supervisors agree on county budget

June 11, 2020 — Over two days of hearings, the Board of Supervisors hammered out a budget that funded the Fire Safe Council at $100,000 for the next fiscal year, extended the contract for Public Health Officer Dr. Noemi Doohan through the end of the calendar year, and strove to balance the sheriff’s budget in part by agreeing to build a courthouse near the jail for in-custody non-jury trial matters.

Another item, vaguely worded but hugely controversial, about possibly re-directing the cannabis cultivation program, was tabled until a special meeting onTuesday, June 16th. Cannabis tax projections for this year are $4.5 million, but the program itself is almost $100,000 in the hole, with $525,000 in revenue and $632,000 in salaries and expenses.

Environmental and mental health, which are heavily dependent on state and federal funds, are projected to take a 15% cut over the next three to four years. 

Several emails to the board expressed dismay with the cuts to social services, especially mental health, and asked that the board consider spending less on law enforcement and the jail. But the original proposal to slash the Fire Safe Council budget to $25,000 garnered over a hundred letters from all over the county. Bumping it back up to $100,000, which is its current, albeit very new, allotment was uncontroversial, after county staff trimmed travel costs in other areas.

Cutting transportation costs was one motivation for Sheriff Matt Kendall’s plan to put in a courthouse near the jail, where deputies won’t have to orchestrate elaborate movements of inmates between the current jail site and the courthouse on State Street. He thinks he’ll be able to save $360,000 a year once the new location is up and running, which he hopes will be September or October. He also thinks the new system will cut down on overtime, which has cost the county upwards of two million dollars in some years.

Supervisors turned their attention to another figure charged with preserving public safety when they took up the question of the county’s arrangement with Dr. Doohan. The board voted 4-1, with Supervisor John McCowen dissenting, to extend her contract for up to $100,000 for the next six months, at 20 hours a week. But Tammy Moss Chandler, the director of the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, said a lot of that money is not coming out of county coffers. Since Dr. Doohan is not a county employee, up to 75% of her salary could be reimbursable by FEMA. Moss Chandler added that, with benefits, she believes it would cost $300,000 a year to hire a full-time public health officer as a county employee.

But McCowen was unimpressed with the cost-saving argument, saying he “mourns the countless hours that have been spent rewriting the health order,” on the part of Doohan, County Counsel Christian Curtis, and two of his deputies.

Local tourism and business reps are preparing for tomorrow’s order, which they expect will allow gyms, drinking establishments, lodging (including campgrounds and RV parks), and movie theaters to reopen with distancing and cleaning protocols in place. Licensed businesses will have to go through a worksheet and checklist to self-certify that they are in compliance.


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