Point Arena City Council Update -- May 21, 2010

By Lauren Sinnott, Point Arena City Council member and Mayor

Submitted to the Independent Coast Observer


These are tough but exciting times for our county and for the City of Point Arena.

There are only four incorporated cities in Mendocino County and we are by far the smallest. Unlike our sister cities of Fort Bragg, Willits and Ukiah, Point Arena has not had to lay off any employees nor cut hours or pay. Admittedly, PA is a tiny lean machine without much fat to trim, yet we are proud of this fact, especially when empathizing with the challenges faced by our colleagues.

Point Arena’s approximately $1 million annual budget is affected by reductions in Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) from our hotels, shrinking sales tax, and constant changes at the state level, but so far so good. There are also highlights, particularly the success this year of our mosquito fleet of urchin divers, whose catches result in 5 pennies per pound to the city and who contribute to the success of Ocean Fresh out of Fort Bragg, which employs 100 local workers in the meticulous processing of the urchin, destined for Japan.  The poundage of all our fishermen and divers resulted in $50,000 to the city this fiscal year, which helps Pier Supervisor Peter Bogdahn keep the pier self-sufficient, especially when the staff’s mechanical skill level allows us to accomplish much maintenance in house.

Our three accounts—Pier, General Fund and Wastewater –are all operating in the black. This is notable because for many years, Wastewater customers were simply not billed enough to fully provide for the long-term improvement of the plant and the major project of sludge removal was deferred.  Our rates are now catching up with the recommendations of the 2006 Wastewater Study (about $50 per household per month) which will allow us to improve our simple, but highly functional system.

Another recent highlight was the intensive planning and community outreach process that led to the Point Arena Community Action Plan (CAP). This was funded by CalTrans and administered through the Mendocino Council of Governments (MCOG) which handles regional transportation in our county. The CAP contains numerous integrated improvements to the city’s streets, sidewalks, bikeways and trails that will enhance public health and safety, economic viability and overall livability. Our next step is to apply for Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S) funding for two crucial intersections (Main and School St. and Hwy. 1 at Lake.) SR2S is one of the most reliable pots of money for transportation enhancement and we will be competitive because Point Arena is home to five schools that serve a district which is 50 miles long!

Successful navigation of the maze of funding sources for cities is an area where we are determined to improve and excel. We have carved out $9,000 in this year’s budget for grant seeking. What can one do with such a paltry sum, you may ask? First, we will hire a local person to work on our projects for an hourly wage. Then we have agreed to be instructed by the highly skilled grants professional in Fort Bragg, which is the Mendocino city that has the most successful record of getting the money that’s out there, using it for the intended purpose and then recycling a portion of it into infrastructure, while applying in subsequent cycles for more. Certain planners, managers and professionals at all levels in our sister cities have been very generous with their help to Point Arena in the past, and this gives us a chance to give back.

In a similar mutually beneficial relationship, we have contracted with the County Planning Department to develop our state-mandated 5-year update of the Housing Element in our General Plan. It is a highly technical process and could cost upwards of $30,000 if we hired a private consultant. Instead, we are saving half and giving a modest bit of work to the capable staff at County Planning when they really need the money.    

Another interesting thing about Point Arena’s municipal government is that while council members here earn less than most others in any jurisdiction ($75/mo. each, with $100/mo. for the Mayor), we often have a greater work load because of the small size of the city’s professional staff. We don’t have a planning department, so council is very involved with our Clerk/Administrator in planning issues. Our tiny city cannot afford a normal city manager nor a human resources department and traditionally our self-motivated supervisors and employees have been happy to have the autonomy to do their work without multiple layers of bureaucracy. This also means that the council as a body hires, fires and does performance evaluations. This trim structure relies on independent, responsible employees, which we have been very fortunate to find and keep. It also relies on council members who have the skills to understand and help with employment matters, construction documents and bids, municipal finance and administration, planning and transportation and more.  We are dedicated and most of us devote many, many hours to the job. We are doing our best in trying times, but also times of opportunity.

Please note: these remarks do not constitute the City of Point Arena’s response to the latest Grand Jury Report. We are looking forward enthusiastically to drafting our response to the report during the coming month and the ICO will be fully apprised of its final contents.

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