Bringing Measure B into focus

May 22, 2020

May 21, 2020 — A request for staff turned into an hours-long existential discussion about Measure B at this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting. Calls for a business plan, concerns about dwindling revenue for the sales tax initiative, and increasing skepticism about the ability to operate a mental health facility once it’s built, all swirled around the actual item, which was to hire a full time analyst and a part time assistant for the Measure B Program Manager Alyson Bailey.

But Supervisor Ted Williams wanted a contingency on any further expenditures of Measure B funds. “I want a business plan before we continue spending,” he declared. “So we don’t get into a predicament where we have some land,we have some drawings, we think we can construct a building but we can’t staff it. I’d like a business plan that talks about construction costs and the operations costs, and then consider it shovel ready and move forward.”

Bailey, who is the program manager but is listed on the Measure B webpage as the committee clerk, now relies on staff from the department of Behavioral Health. She said she could get a budget to the board by July, but in the meantime, work continues on the critical residential treatment facility, which must proceed according to a strict schedule if the county wishes to make use of a half million dollar state grant. Supervisor John Haschak asked Bailey if it would be a problem to discontinue paying those workers. “So if we waited on this business plan to continue work on it, because no one is going to work without money, then will that put it into jeopardy with the November date?”

“Almost certainly,” Bailey replied; perhaps as soon as August.

Williams asked CEO Carmel Angelo about the psychiatric health facility, or Puff, and the crisis stabilization unit, the two other facilities that are to be built with Measure B funds. The money in the account now stands at $16,38,000, but with an economic downturn well underway, it’s unlikely to flourish.

“Is there truth in our inability to construct and operate a Puff or a CSU?” he asked.

“I am not sure who the subject matter experts were who determined that $38 million could get us an inpatient psychiatric facility, and one that could be operated as well,” Angeo replied. “I’m not sure where those figures came from. I know the figures we did before really showed that the county could not afford this. Here’s my answer to this question: Before the economic downturn that we are currently in, we could not afford to operate a 24-hour inpatient psychiatric facility. We now have an economic downturn where we’re still in the first five years of collecting tax money. We’re never going to make $38 we could put together a business plan and see where it takes us, but somewhere along the line, there has to be the reality that I don’t know that the figures were ever accurate to start with...and it really is unfortunate that the public has this perception, that the government gave them, that we could build this building and operate it.”

Dr. Jenine Miller, the Behavioral Health director, told the board she had a cost analysis from 2016 and another one from 2019. And she suggested taking a regional approach.

“There are a lot of models,” she said. “We can say that Mendocino County maybe can’t afford these facilities if they’re done just by Mendocino County and I will agree: the fact that we probably cannot run three facilities by ourselves without looking at partnerships...a lot of facilities work with outside counties. So if we’re smark, we’re going to be putting together a business plan that really looks at, how many beds would Lake County use, and what would that bring, and what about Trinity, and does Humboldt need extra beds...Sonoma County has a need for more MediCal available beds. So we know that we have multiple counties right around us that are having to ship their clients just like we do an hour to six hours away...we don’t have to depend solely on Mendocino County dollars...that is a viable option. It’s what most counties do, and it’s a way to keep these facilities up and running. If you were to ask me today, can Mendocino County do these on their own? No, we probably can’t do all three on our own. Could we do two? It’s possible. Could we do one? Yes, I think we can easily do one, when I look at the figures myself. But I would never build this model not knowing that we were going to work with other counties and do a regional model. Because that’s how these facilities operate and keep financially functional.”

After several motions about how to staff the Measure B program failed, the board voted unanimously to hire temporary help to work on plans and analyses, and a part time administrative assistant. The next Measure B meeting is Wednesday, May 27 at 1pm.