Article Published in the Mad River Union

Published on July 22, 2017

Written by Stephen Madrone

This question has been coming up a lot lately in McKinleyville. It comes up often at McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee meetings (McKMAC) and it comes up at McKinleyville Organizing Coalition meetings. You can hear the question asked at the coffee shop, the lube place, the gas station. There are as many opinions as there are folks, and so here are some thoughts for a deeper discussion of these important matters.
Another question heard often around Mack Town is “should McKinleyville incorporate?” These are two very good questions. Let’s see what we know about all this. I will add my two cents and then, hopefully, others will offer theirs in an effort to find some answers and solutions to solving important community problems.
Because McKinleyville is unincorporated, it is therefore governed by the county. The county collects property taxes and gets some portion of the sales tax as revenues; it uses some of these revenues for roads, law enforcement through the Sheriff’s Department, libraries and other services. Sewer, water, street lights and parks are managed by the McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD) and residents pay for these services through their monthly bills and hook-up fees.

Planning services are provided through the county Planning Department and the seven-member Planning Commission, which represents the entire county, not just McKinleyville. McKinleyville gets one seat on the commission, appointed by its 5th District Supervisor, and sometimes there may be another “at-large member” of the commission that is from the 5th District, which includes most of Northern Humboldt County.
Concern over the lack of focused representation on the commission from McKinleyville’s perspective eventually led to the creation of the McKMAC. Appointments to the McKMAC are controlled by the Board of Supervisors, rather than the residents of the area.

The McKMAC can comment to the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission on broad planning matters related to the General Plan and other broad community issues, but it cannot comment on individual projects that are often of great concern to neighbors.
While the creation of the McKMAC seemed like it could help, in actuality the McKMAC leadership has been very reluctant to allow for discourse on many important community concerns to date, including issues such as rent control, racism and even planning for a Town Center.

Rather than embrace the need for respectful community discourse, and rather than seek solutions to help make community visions happen, McKMAC leadership has been reluctant and uncooperative. Instead, the focus seems to be on controlling community discourse and on what the interest of a few connected developers want, rather than on broader community goals and visions.

There are many in McKinleyville who feel that the community should have its just say. So how does that happen? If the current leadership at the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Commission and the McKMAC is not willing and dedicated to encouraging and facilitating this broad community discussion and solution-based planning, then we can replace them in the next election with leaders who have shown a commitment to these values.
Some efforts, like the Town Center vision, may need help from the community, the developers, the landowner and the county to actually happen. Without good leadership, it is hard to bring all the elements of success together. With it, we can do anything.

Another way for McKinleyville to have more say in planning in Mack Town is to incorporate. Sure, most say that it is too late for that because of laws that generally require that existing sources of revenue stay with the county even after incorporation. Given that McKinleyville is fairly well built out, incorporating on only “new revenue” sources would not be adequate to run the new city. That makes sense.
But how much does it take to run McKinleyville and how much revenue is there? Can McKinleyville run its own affairs more cost-effectively than the county? Counties normally do not try to run a city.
You would think that these would be simple questions to answer, but they are not. I have asked the county for public records that document these revenues and expenses for McKinleyville.

The response has been to send me countywide numbers. Current recordkeeping does not separate out McKinleyville costs and revenues from the rest of the county. I would suggest that it would be good to do so for many reasons. Here are the numbers I have been provided so far by the county:

Revenues
The Auditor-Controller estimate using McKinleyville Community Services District as the area:
Total value = $1,448,404,537
One percent = $14,484,045.37
General fund percentage = 0.17001223 = $2,462,464.85
Roads percentage = 0.02237714 = $324,111.51.
The 7.5 percent sales tax revenues estimated for the McKinleyville area are as follows:
2015: $5,010,138
2016: $5,509,814
One percent of the 7.5 percent sales tax is for local government; 2.0625 percent of the remaining 6.5 percent sales tax goes to local government.
Total Estimated Sales Tax from McKinleyville (MCSD) area is $734,642 (the one percent), plus $98,488 = $833,130 in 2016.
Measure Z 0.5 percent sales tax adds to this.
So, based on the figures the county has provided, the estimated contribution McKinleyville makes to the county budget is $3,619,707 for 2016.

Expenses
Costs to the county are even harder to figure out, as the county does not separate them out by the MCSD area.
Roads: the county spends about $10,000,000 per year, countywide; divided by the six road-districts, that is about $1.67 million per road district. With McKinleyville having the concentration of high maintenance needs in its area, that cost could easily be about $2,100,000 per year for McKinleyville area roads.
Sheriff: the Northern Area Command (NAC) cost about $2,759,787 for 2016; the northern area covers all of McKinleyville and the rest of the Supervisor District 5. An estimate of Sheriff costs for just the MCSD area is $1,500,000 per year, as it is the home of the majority of population in the 5th District.

Libraries: unknown
Planning Services: all volunteer McKMAC = $0.
Animal Control: spend nearly $900,000 a year and lose nearly $300,000 per year; These are services for the whole county, even though the shelter is in McKinleyville.
To summarize the estimates:
Total County Revenues from the MCSD area are: $3,619,707.
Total County Expenses for the MCSD area are: $3,600,000.
This estimate is pretty close. Expenses could be higher. It would be good to know if the county is losing money on McKinleyville or making money.

If it is losing money or just breaking even, then maybe they would wave the laws and let a new City of McKinleyville take all revenue sources and pay for all services in the city.
Local control may be more efficient than the current county effort. On the surface, it looks like there is enough revenue to run the city if they could get all revenues.

If the county is making money on Mack Town, then that is a good argument for there to be a McKinleyville Planning Commission that is entirely responsive to the local community. Either way, the community of McKinleyville gets more say in what happens if they take control of their own destinies or if they can get focused planning services.

The above are rough estimates based on limited record keeping by the county. I encourage the county to separate costs for the MCSD area so that the community can have a well-founded discussion on this important issue.

Add to the above county revenues and expenses the total revenues for the MCSD at $9,402,110 for 2017/2018 and total expenses at $7,571,848 for a population of 15,177. That makes a total of $13,021,817 for area revenues and a total of $11,171,848 for expenses.

Arcata’s population is just a little bigger at 17,231. Total revenues for 2016/2017 are estimated at $32,940,911 and total expenses are estimated at $31,540,000.
This estimate leaves McKinleyville at about 40 percent of Arcata’s revenues and about 35 percent of the estimated expenses. Clearly, there are important differences in the two communities. Arcata manages a community forest and gets revenues from there. They also manage a marsh and wetland system and a more extensive drainage network and have a state university.

Perhaps we could have a community discussion at the McKMAC with detailed numbers provided by the county on revenues and expenses. We could compare that with other community budgets for towns more similar to McKinleyville. This would be a good way to take the pulse of the community. That could be followed by a ballot measure put to the residents on whether they would like to explore incorporation or not.

Following that a discussion could happen with the Board of Supervisors and eventually with the Local Agency Formation Commission. You would think that it would be in the best interest of the county to assist McKinleyville with incorporation.

What do you say? Who should decide?

Stephen Madrone is a Forestry and Watershed Management Lecturer at Humboldt State University, the executive director of the Mattole Salmon Group and helped complete the Hammond Trail. He lives in the Trinidad area.