[Marin County] County approves slow-growth budget

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report recommendation.

After months of public hearings, the Board of Supervisors last Tuesday approved the 2019-2020 budget, which emphasizes new investments in infrastructure, improving disaster preparedness, preserving affordable housing and addressing climate change, priorities that reflect feedback from residents surveyed this year.  

The $631 million budget represents a 6.9 percent increase from the year before. Though it was amended since hearings began in April, the budget was part of a two-year plan first approved by the supervisors last June; staff from the county administrator’s office reported this spring that economic indicators remained positive. 

District Four Supervisor Dennis Rodoni reported that West Marin fared well. “I’m pleased to see that we were able to fund a lot of the community needs identified in the survey,” he said. “In this budget, West Marin does really well in terms of funding.”

New allocations include two pots of an estimated $750,000 earmarked for emergency preparedness and affordable housing, which will be generated through the increased transient occupancy tax local voters approved last fall. Within the $10,238,641 the county allocated for affordable housing, a large portion is slated for the purchase of the Coast Guard property in Point Reyes Station, which is expected by the end of the year. (Though the county has not disclosed the estimated cost, the supervisors in January transferred $3 million to the affordable housing trust fund to prepare for the acquisition.) 

Supervisor Rodoni also pointed to a new well of $250,000 to address tourism impacts in coastal Marin. Though he said the exact allocation of that funding depends on further community discussion, the supervisor offered several possibilities: new public restrooms in Point Reyes Station, a parking enforcement officer for the whole coastal region, or a shuttle connecting the SMART train to Point Reyes Station to facilitate access to the Point Reyes National Seashore. 

Also to address visitor impacts, the budget set aside $150,000 for an ordinance to ban single-use plastics throughout unincorporated Marin. 

When the county surveyed residents on budgetary priorities this year, 90 percent of those surveyed agreed that investing in county infrastructure and improving disaster preparedness were the most critical. Countywide, budget allocations totaled $85 million for the Department of Public Works and Community Development Agency. Around $156 million was allocated for public safety, including to the fire department and sheriff’s office. 

The budget details multiple road surfacing and bridge replacement projects over the next five years. The Department of Public Works has a pot of $12 million—a mix of state funds and one-time investments—to contribute and expects around $60 million in federal matching monies for West Marin alone. Projects include resurfacing the stretch of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard that leads to the lighthouse and bridge replacements in Nicasio, Lagunitas and Olema. 

D.P.W. also has $325,000 for structural elevation in Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, Inverness and Marshall—a program that will be assisted by a $3 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to target sea-level rise impacts.

The budget includes a variety of capital improvement projects that will directly benefit emergency services on the coast. These include finishing the new fire station in Tomales, upgrading electrical and communication services at the Point Reyes Station firehouse and building a new restroom at the Hicks Valley fire station. 

During the public comment portion of one budget hearing held last Monday, the only two people who spoke were there to represent firefighters. Bob Briare, president of the Marin Professional Firefighters, and Michael Tribolet, a firefighter with the Marin County Fire Department, both asked for increased funds to hire more firefighting staff countywide. 

The supervisors made clear that increased resources are coming down the pipeline. Aligned with the recommendation of an investigation released this spring by the county’s civil grand jury, the county is conducting a staffing study and considering a measure for the March 2020 election that proposes a parcel or sales tax to increase revenue for fire services. 

The approved budget includes three new one-time expenditures for emergencies: $250,000 for emergency preparedness initiatives; $250,000 for emergency access and needs planning; and $215,000 for the Marin County Fire Department to upgrade its wildfire protective gear and hoses. 

The Department of Public Works was allocated monies to finish a California Environmental Quality Act determination within this fiscal year for the implementation of a new Marin Emergency Radio Authority system.  

Overall, the county’s budget analysts were cautiously optimistic. “Despite a strong local economy and a relatively stable fiscal outlook for the state, Marin continues to be a slow growth county,” their report stated. “This is a function of the county’s financial structure, with nearly 40 percent of its discretionary revenue coming from local taxes.” It continued, “Because of Proposition 13 limitations and relatively low levels of new construction, we are projecting a gradual slowdown in the annual growth rate for countywide value over the next five years.”

June 26, 2019

Point Reyes Light

By Anna Guth