1. The County is facing a $24 million budget deficit which represents over one-third of the general fund budget—what could you have done sooner to prevent this catastrophe?
Some of my examples are that we have an ag marketing contract, the needle exchange program, which I know you and I disagree on, all these other things. We know we’re going to cancel those. Those are going to end up being casualties of this budget process. It would have been better to have canceled them in late December and then get six months of savings to be able to cancel those contracts and have the money than simply allow them to lapse with time at the end of the year.
2. You have been critical of your colleagues’ willingness to take on the issue of the budget deficit—what would you do that your colleagues are not doing? What are your priorities to preserve? What would you cut first?
Public safety is my priority and I do mean that. I think the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s, the Public Defender’s Office and Probation are all my priorities for county government. Part of your question is what you would do differently, from my perspective there is a couple of things we’re going to do, I mentioned some of them in the previous answer. But we’re going to end the ag marketing program, we’re going to stop providing rodent bait control and stuff with the ag department. Anything that’s a non-mandated service basically is in jeopardy. I think we’re going to end up getting rid of our lobbyists, all three of them, entities that work for us. I think we’re going to lower health services that we provide, provide less mental health services, we’re going to make some reductions in the CAO’s office, we’re going to make some budget adjustments in the county board of supervisors office. All of those things are going to have to happen, but we just haven’t dealt with them.
Yes, I have been critical. I laid some of them out (on Tuesday) in a list in the middle of the meeting, because I’m willing to say not only what I value, which we hear a lot about. But I’m also willing to say, what it is that I value least. In the end we have our core services and we need to protect those, and those things that don’t make the list are of lesser value.
[Responding to follow up on whether these things are real money or just symbolic]
I do think we’re talking about real money, especially when you look at the adjustments that could have been made in December and had a whole half a year to be able to capture them. The magnitude that we’re talking about this year, maybe it is four or five million dollars in total but that would have been seven and a half million over the course of eighteen months. We only happen to be at four or five million over twelve months. That’s a mistake.
3. The BOS voted 4-1 to examine alternatives to the Sheriff’s Department cuts, you have said that the Board already has all of the information it needs to make a decision—what do you see that decision as being? What will be the impact on public safety? What will be the impact on social services?
Great question. Yesterday I voted against that on a four-to-one vote because of the timeliness of this, and I have been calling on us to take actions and make decisions on this. The Sheriff presented us with eight or nine different budget scenarios, in terms of if his budget was this amount, this is what would happen. If his budget was this amount, this is what would happen and the whole deal in terms of the services that he could provide. What more could we want?
Or bring the Sheriff there, we should have stayed there all night [Tuesday night] asking whatever questions we have and making our decision. The difference in terms of the cuts with the Sheriff’s Department is somewhere between 18 and 53 [positions]. That’s a huge number with the Sheriff’s Department and we could have at least narrowed it down. Maybe we didn’t know exactly [Tuesday] but I think it’s safe to say that 18 was the minimum we needed to cut and 53 was the highest.
If we had had questions about the way Jeff Reisig was running his department, the DA or probations, we could have asked questions [Tuesday], we had all cleared our schedules, we knew we were going to be there for a long time, we should have stayed there and asked questions until we had answers and would have been able to make decisions.
[Responding to a follow up] Yes I do think it’s been punting and I’ve been pretty open about my feelings about that. This is not going to be fun, it’s not going to go away. It’s not going to pass over. It’s something that we’re going to have to deal with. And we’re going to have to rip the band aid off. I stated this publicly again, I think that we did not act appropriately before and we cost some people their jobs in Yolo County.
[Cost of this delay] The delay actually is not going to cost the county anything because we still have the same amount of dollars, it’s really not going to make much of a difference. Where it’s going to make a difference is because we didn’t cut that hundred thousand dollars before, I don’t know who it’s going to be, but somebody is going to lose their job because didn’t save that hundred thousand dollars before.
[Ask about the end game here] The minimum cuts to the Sheriff’s department I think are at least 18 correctional officers. That was the minimum [on Tuesday] and that’s why I say our gap is between 18 and 53. If it’s 18 it is correctional officers… I’m just saying if it’s 18 we know what that is. If it’s 53, we’re probably losing road patrols and we’re talking about people not having any coverage during a good portion of the time for people who live in the unincorporated portion of Yolo County.
But your original question was what’s the end game. The end game is the same as the game that we could have been playing, should have been playing in October or November. It’s exactly the same thing, we’re going to end up making difficult decisions that are very painful. That’s we get paid to do and we have the information. You might even be able to say that we didn’t have all of the information available in October, fair enough. But we certainly had a good portion of that information yesterday and we didn’t do anything about it.
If it’s 18 then it changes the rest of the cuts dramatically because then you’re talking about 35 positions, and actually it’s even more, because probably our deputy sheriffs with all of the retirement benefits and everything probably have greater bottom line costs than those other folks. So you probably have to have a lot more people lose their jobs. It’s not going to be 35 for 35. It’s going to be 35 for some other numbers spread across a number of general fund departments. But where it will fall within that, I don’t know.
[Is that going to mean a cut to social services?] Absolutely, no doubt about it.
[Asked about his colleagues not making those cuts Tuesday] In the end if we’re going to have to pass a balanced budget it’s going to have to change. [Tuesday] when we talked about the debate, we talked about health and safety. If you take health and safety in the county budget, the way counties operate, that’s pretty much the whole frickin’ thing. It’s all of county government. We can say we value it, we can say it’s important, I don’t doubt that, but I’m comfortable with the fact that people are going to be upset. There’s going to be a reduction of services to provide for the people of Yolo County. It’s just a question of who and when. That’s the only question.
4. Some believe that the BOS was never going to pick the Yolo County Airport or Esparto as locations for the new prison—and that Madison was already a done deal as it was proposed. Do you agree?
No, that’s just completely not true. That’s just not the case. Madison was right along I-505, it’s right at 16, it’s scheduled for development under the general plan to be able to build that area out. The airport had a number of issues. There were legal issues associated with that. There were transportation issues associated with that–which you and I talked about before. It just didn’t work in terms of transportation, in terms of moving people in and out of that area. You’d end up with a lot of people on unincorporated rural roads in a bad situation.
Esparto was probably just as viable but I think for transportation purposes that it’s better to place that facility right next to the Freeway–which is exactly what we did.
5. You have often argued that you do not want to tell Davis what to do or impose growth on it just as you would not want the Davis Supervisors dictating to Woodland what it should do, you backed that up with your votes on the Yolo County General Plan. However, when it came to Madison, you seemed to have little problem going against the wishes of the local residents. What do you see as the difference in your views in these situations? Do you think rural residents were hung out to dry by the rules imposed that gave cities virtual veto power but no such rights to unincorporated areas?
Very clearly one is an incorporated entity and the other is not. I do believe in cities rights and that’s the case, the city of Davis and the community of Madison are very different in terms of my view of their legal standing. Further, in the case of Davis in terms of the re-entry facility, the legislation, AB 900, provided a different standard that was set for incorporated cities versus unincorporated areas of the county. Madison was very different, they’re in the unincorporated area. The Board of Supervisors rules over that, or not rules over that, that’s a misstatement, but that’s within our power to deal with land use issues there.
Further, there’s no community in Yolo County, none, that would have wanted this facility. So for people to say, you’re picking on Madison, okay, then are the people of Madison, okay to place it in Dunnigan? Or Clarksburg or wherever else? In the end, no one wants to located a homeless shelter, any sort of correctional facility or a dump, no one wants any of those things near them, ever. Eventually it has to be placed somewhere.
We dealt with the same issue with the Wayfarer Center in Woodland, nobody wanted it anywhere, but is the community a better place because of placing that there? And I will argue that Yolo County will be a safer place as a result of a re-entry facility being in Madison.
[Have they been hung to dry in this process, lacking representation and redress]. Fair enough, but that would be the case for any land use decision in the unincorporated portion of Yolo County. Do they have redress? Yes they do. But in the end, the entire Yolo County Board of Supervisors makes those land use decision. It’s not up to one supervisor or any one else. It’s up to the board as a whole.
I think that cities have a special standing in terms of the law. They have elected representatives that represent them and they should be able to control what their boundary is and the land use decisions associated with that.
6. Would the county have pursued this without the money attached to it?
No originally we wouldn’t have started going down this road without the money. There’s no doubt about that. But I’m convinced that a re-entry facility is in the best interest of Yolo County even without the money, but I’m not stupid enough to say that I’m so willing to prove that by locating one here and not taking the money. If we’re going to have it, when people are returned from prison, which they do all the time, Yolo County will be a safer place as the result of having a re-entry facility here.
[Are you convinced that re-entry facilities are the right approach or should the entire prison experience be geared toward eventual re-entry?]
I don’t know if I can get into a theoretical discussion with you on corrections, but I don’t think that there’s much doubt that an approach where you increase ability of people to get drug counseling, alcohol counseling, education and job training, doesn’t make for a better person when they get on the streets. So we can change the way we deliver those or where we deliver them, but in the end, I think that’s part of the rehabilitation process. What we have currently go on in the correctional process, the rehabilitation portion is a complete failure.
7. The county was experiencing revenue problems well before the current crisis—what is the longer term answer to budgetary problems for the county? Have you done enough to make the kinds of structural changes that need to be made for longer term stability?
That is a fabulous question. There’s two answers. One is that the county has to look at the fact that we get a very low percentage of property tax in the state of California… The other question is, and I think this is really an important one, right now there seems to be this perception, I argued this when I was on the Woodland City Council, which is that Yolo County does provide many social services and it’s a social safety net. Everyone recognizes that and people kind of put that label on county government.
In Yolo County one of the best services that we provide is basically with our land use policies in terms of how we do in protecting ag land. That services is never listed as one of the things that we’ve done. It’s made our county very different from Sacramento County or some of the other counties where you have large amounts of unincorporated sprawl. We haven’t done that and I don’t think we will do that, but we have to start valuing that as a service.
If we do that, will we end up in a situation where we are constantly challenged budget wise? Absolutely. But we’re providing a service as a result of that compromise.
[Follow up on solutions] I guess part of my second part of my answer is that we’re always going to have a structural problem as long as we continue to value the preservation of open space and farmland. The other one is that I do think there needs to be some adjustments in the formula by which we do property tax in California. We have some legislation that we’re planning to be able to deal with that.
8. How do you view county growth?
That’s another fabulous question because around 85% of where people in Yolo County live is within the incorporated cities. If you look at the cities between our communities, Davis has their urban limit line, Measure J. They have Measure J where they drew a very tight urban limit line around the city of Davis and I believe it’s completely concurrent with their city limit boundary.
West Sacramento is completely different. They have an enormous city limit boundary. There are people who are actively farming within the city of West Sacramento. Lots of acres. So they don’t need the county to incorporate any property or annex any property.
The city of Woodland is in a totally different situation. Our city limit line is one line, and further out is the urban limit line, which I helped pass on the ballot. But it’s still not property that’s annexed into the city of Woodland. The city of Woodland does have its plan to be able to grow out to that boundary and will at some point, I’m sure.
The important part for the county is to make sure that when that goes forward, our costs are fully recovered with that growth. That’s the biggest challenge for the county with that growth. Davis is probably not going to grow so much. West Sacramento is going to grow a lot under a very old agreement where I’m not sure that the county is made whole. Woodland ends up bearing a good portion of the burden with that because as we end up growing, we will have to pay the full-cost to the county.
[What do you see as the environmental impact of continued growth?]
A good portion of that is where it’s going to be and what that growth looks like. The environmental impact obviously is in terms of loss of farmland. There are some other portions of the county as West Sacramento grows, how does it grow in terms of their transportation structure? What’s it going to be like to be able to get people across the bridge to work? Hopefully we can do some things like the Woodland-Davis bike path as Woodland grows and we continue to supply housing for UC Davis employees. We have people who are able to move back and forth. I guess transportation and loss of ag land would be the primary things I would be concerned with.
[What about water?]
I’m very hopeful about the idea of getting surface water. I think the idea that Woodland and Davis are pumping ground water entirely… you always want a diversified water supply… I really do believe the cities of Woodland and Davis need to obtain that surface water and figure out a way to convey it to the cities to be able to do that. And I’m hopeful that will happen as part of the Delta discussions.
[But at what cost to the consumers]
It may be very expensive to be able to do, there’s no doubt about it. But what costs would it be if the aquifer is spoiled or harmed in some way where water wasn’t potable. That would be a huge deal and it would be a much more expensive process.
[What if no surface water available]
You’ll still have the ability to pump groundwater. If that happens and there is no surface water available then we can always go back to groundwater in doing that. In order to stop the subsidence that’s occurring in this area, I think it would be far better to do surface water and capture rainwater than it would be to pump groundwater.
[Does this county and really this state have the resources to continue to maintain the level of growth we have seen in past decades, if not how do we deal with this issue?]
Yes, we have enough water, if we allocate it properly and use it. If we allocate surface water properly, there’s enough surface water to take care of a good portion of Yolo County. West Sacramento is already using surface water, but Davis and Woodland are entirely groundwater oriented and I would like to stop pumping groundwater as much as we are.
I guess I disagree with some of that because so much of that surface water supply is just flowing right out into the ocean right now and it’s not being captured when it could be used for all kinds of different purposes. If the state of California does grow to 50 million people, Yolo County will bear some of that population growth.
9. Some have criticized your urban limit line as being too large and instead of limiting growth, actually encouraging it along with the loss of agricultural land that you claim to cherish. How do you respond?
The only thing that the urban limit line did in Woodland, if people would actually sit and take a look at it, it gets blamed for all sorts of things… Could Woodland grow to a million people as the result of the urban limit line? Well not as a result of the urban limit line. But if we stack high rises up there all day long, we could grow it as large as Manhattan.
What the urban limit line does is provides a tool for the Woodland City Council to be able to make good land use decisions and not allow it to grow beyond that. It creates an artificial barrier to artificially decrease the supply of land available to be able to develop. It’s a tool that really is a passive tool. The only way that Woodland could grow as dramatically as people talk about through the urban limit line is if the city council actually approves any of that growth and the county goes through the annexation. It’s been in place now for two-and-a-half, three years, we haven’t seen a huge number of applicants for it in terms of being able to develop that. The city of Woodland is still going through their discretion of approving development or not approving development. And they’re continuing to move forward. So there’s no proof that it’s causing further development.
At the point at which it gets to the line in twenty or thirty years, it causes a vote of the people in Woodland to grow more. It’s not as tight as Davis’ Measure J is now, but hopefully it will increase the value of the farmland within the urban limit line to such an extent that it would give an incentive to people to redevelop land downtown. It’s always easier to develop open farmland than it is to deal with redevelopment areas downtown which is more expensive to do.
[In your opinion, has the county done enough to protect agricultural land during your tenure on the BOS?]
I guess so. The general plan is in the process right now and I know that I don’t see a lot of people upset about Dunnigan except for transportation purposes. There are certainly those purists out there who say not another acre or not another square inch, I just don’t think that’s realistic. But yes I think the county is still within its general plan still can show that it values ag land.
10. What efforts are you willing to make to bring all city councilmembers, county supervisors, school board trustees and our legislators together to once and for all address in a forthright and meaningful way the deficits, the unfunded services, taxes and the fiscal well being of the governments?
Good question, I don’t really have an answer for you in terms of how willing I am to do that. Part of it is that you mentioned the school districts, which are funded entirely differently. Most of those questions would end up being answered through state legislation in some way. So there’s very little overlap between county, city and school district funding. Those sorts of decisions need to be made in terms of how we fund local government through the legislature.
The first part of your question regarding one pot of money out there, I understand why you would feel that way about Davis, but Woodland has had the opposite experience. If you look at Measure T which I helped pass in 1999 along with Gary Sandy, we worked very hard, I think it was a $35 million bond, to build Pioneer High School and improve every high school in the Woodland Joint Unified School District. We passed that bond in 1999 and two years later the city passed a sales tax, I believe it was Measure E that was on the ballot, to help fund and build the new community center and whatever else. Granted they weren’t on the ballot at the same time, but within two years we saw huge improvements of our schools and a sales tax investment by the city of Woodland in terms of those facilities. So I don’t agree with you.
Granted there is one pot of money in a taxpayer’s pocket, but the residents of Woodland have shown an amazing ability to be able to…
I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing [if people get tired of paying more taxes], people talk about how we should lower the threshold for school bonds because sometimes they don’t pass, but sometimes they don’t deserve to pass. When the school district passed Measure T, it was the third try. It barely failed a couple of times and in the end the school district right now in Woodland had a headline the other day saying they want to pass a $115 million bond for school improvements. That’s just crazy right now for the district to consider that. They haven’t shown they are a stable board lately. They had a member resign recently. They had a disaster with the building. Some of them don’t deserve to pass. That’s just the reality.
You brought up an interesting point with regards to the county as well. The difficult part for the county is that right now the people of Davis consider themselves to be Davis residents, the same with Woodland and West Sac. Very few people say I’m from Yolo County… I think it would be very difficult unless it was a Christmas tree loaded with stuff for all of the individual cities and unincorporated areas that we would be able to pass something countywide. That’s my view because I don’t think people identify with being from Yolo County like they do being from Orange County or San Francisco County. That’s a big part of the taxes.
So I guess the first part of the question is on taxes, I’m not necessarily sure that that’s true, although it may be true, it may not be a bad thing.
Your point about employees is also a good one. That’s the reality under which we live in. Your arms race analogy is a good one as well. We compare neighboring entities for the air district, for the county, for the city of Woodland which has been my experiences, we do look at the competitive salaries of other entities. We do the same thing when look at the city manager’s salary, or county counsel salaries, and it just keeps moving up all the way around.
I think one of the bigger problems and the only thing I’ve ever wanted to serve on at the state level, was I would love to serve on the PERS board. Right now, I just don’t think the PERS board does a very good job for local governments.
I’ll give you some examples. If you came to work for the county of Yolo twenty years ago… Then I decide I want to raise your pension from 2.5 percent to 2.7 at 50 or whatever, it backdates every single one of your years that you served. It multiplies your twenty years times 2.7 at the new amount. Well 19 of those years were under the old formula. I believe that’s a gift of public funds that I’m forced to do if I increase your retirement. I just don’t think that that’s fair.
There’s several other issues I have with PERS, but right now I think it’s stacked so ridiculously that we end up basically giving away too much money. There’s going to be some other cities that end up in the same place that Vallejo’s in.
[What’s the answer to that] Some number is fair. The public safety people will say that our number deserves to be higher because of the stressful positions that we hold. We don’t live as long. We have this extra risk of injury or death and so we deserve a higher percentage. But some number is fair, it’s either 2 percent or 2.5 percent, I don’t know what it is. And it shouldn’t be that you get 2 percent of your salary because you go to work for the city of Woodland and 2.5 percent for Davis and 3 percentage points at Winters. It’s this constant creep upwards, it never comes down.
[Still asking what’s the solution] I think it is saying no. BTW, I only think that the benefits portion, the employees portion and the raises it only accounts for about half of that. The other half which is the salary adjustments which I was actually okay with. Those percentage increases were okay. When we started talking about the backdating of these PERS benefits I wasn’t there. Anyway that’s one portion of it. But in terms of what’s the answer, I guess I don’t really have a good answer for you in terms of the solution to that problem.
Toughest Ten Scorecard
Interviewed: Supervisor Matt Rexroad