Russell Boniface Jun. 3, 2016, 9:05pm

UKIAH – The Mendocino County board of supervisors recently voted in favor of making county fire services eligible for Proposition 172 public safety services funding.

In addition, a grand jury report released last February recommended that Mendocino County change its annual budget format to make it clearer to the public how it distributes the county’s Proposition 172 funding.

California Proposition 172, passed in 1993, allows for funding of public safety services based on revenue from a half-cent sales tax. Funding is distributed to police and sheriffs' departments, fire protection services, county district attorneys and county probation.

Funding allocation, however, is under the discretion of a county’s board of supervisors. Some counties across the state, including Mendocino County, withhold Proposition 172 funds from local fire districts, considering them special districts. County fire districts, including Mendocino and Orange counties, alleged the funds should be shared. Also, county budgets have had no clear breakdown outlining how Proposition 172 funds should be distributed.

Last year, Mendocino County dedicated approximately $7 million in Proposition 172 funds from the state to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, and jail and probation services.

Next fiscal year, however, 21 Mendocino County fire districts will receive approximately $400,000 in Proposition 172 county funding as a result of the board’s new ruling.

The fire initiative began last December when four Mendocino County fire districts petitioned for an election ballot asking the Mendocino County board of supervisors to implement a more transparent process for Proposition 172 funding while also allocating 30 percent of the funds to the county fire department. Judge Jeanine Nadel ruled against allowing the ballot measure.

Willits attorney Chris Neary, representing the fire districts, filed a petition asking the District Court of Appeals to review Nadel’s decision, which was denied.

“We decided not to appeal because even if we won, it would be so far down the line that a win would not get us to the electorate this year,” Neary told the Northern California Record. “In our case, the board of supervisors came around and decided to reverse its exclusion of fire districts from 172 allocations to sponsor an initiative measure for a dedicated funding source for fire districts. It is a significant turnaround of a rather long standing board policy. The board ended up acting in good faith and has stepped up. We have had a positive result.”

The grand jury’s report, “Proposition 172 Funds: A Need for Transparency,” recommends adopting a clearer Proposition 172 budgeting method, including a line item on the final budget stating how Proposition 172 funds will be distributed to public safety agencies, beginning with the 2017-18 fiscal year.

“The grand jury report was the grand jury acting at its best,” said Neary.

County District Attorney David Eyster agreed with the grand jury’s findings and recommendations. Eyster and Auditor-Controller Lloyd Weer have posted their responses to the grand jury report on the Mendocino County website.

Other California counties have had Proposition 172 debates over fire service funding, including Humboldt County. In November 2014, the county passed a measure in favor of a half-cent sales tax for five years to make up for the shortage of public safety funding for its county fire district. It generated more than $2 million last year.

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Mendocino County
501 Low Gap Road
Ukiah, CA 95482

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