Praise for plans to open the downtown Napa library on Sundays and a pointed public airing of a staffing dispute marked Napa County's hearing for a half-billion-dollar budget.
The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday tentatively approved a 2019-20 budget that takes effect on July 1. Supervisors are scheduled to take a final vote next Tuesday.
“We’re very privileged to be in this position where we can allocate over a half-billion dollars into our community, with the emphasis on creating a place we all want to live in,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said.
The budget calls for opening the downtown Napa Main Library from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays starting the first week of July. That means patrons will be able to visit the library every day of the week.
The library had been open on Sundays from 2001 until 2010, when Sunday service fell victim to Great Recession budget cuts. About 1,600 people used the library on Sundays, compared to 2,100 on Saturdays and 2,000 on Fridays, county officials reported at the time.
In addition, the American Canyon and Calistoga libraries will add Monday service and the Yountville library will add Friday service. Adding extra days to all four county libraries will cost about $271,000. The St. Helena Public Library is a city, not a county, library and is not affected.
“Very, very happy to see the expanded hours,” Pedroza said. “I think it’s great. Libraries play a huge role in the community.”
Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said libraries are locations for cooling stations in the communities on hot days. Having them open for more hours is important in that regard.
The staffing dispute involves the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office. It came up during Tuesday's hearing in a manner that added a sudden jolt of energy to otherwise placid proceedings.
Treasurer-Tax Collector James Hudak in a letter to the Board of Supervisors detailed the back story. He asked for $9,000 so an existing employee could become a supervising accounting specialist to lead a team that would more aggressively pursue delinquent taxes.
People owe about $4 million in unsecured property taxes in Napa County – that figure is over a couple of decades – and the amount increased by $400,000 in 2018-19 alone. If he can develop his team, the county could collect a minimum of $250,000 in delinquent taxes each year for the county, cities, special districts and schools, Hudak wrote.
Examples of unsecured property taxes are taxes on planes, boats and business property. Taxes on land are secured property taxes because they can be guaranteed by a lien.
Assistant Treasurer-Tax Collector Bret Prebula submitted the original staffing request in November 2018. Hudak resubmitted the request in February after being appointed to the elected Treasure-Tax Collector position by the Board of Supervisors to fill a vacancy.
“After numerous discussions with CEO (County Executive Officer) this issue continued to not be resolved,” Hudak wrote.
Hudak decided to make the staffing change a budget request, but it wasn't included in the county's recommended budget.
"Since our budget process does not allow for a difference in the department-requested versus the CEO-recommended budget, you wouldn't know there was a discrepancy in what I believe should be the recommended budget versus what is in front of you today," Hudak wrote to supervisors.
With Hudak on vacation, Prebula came to the microphone and made the case verbally to supervisors.
That brought a reprimand from County Executive Officer Minh Tran, who said Prebula was “hijacking” the budget hearing and not following the county process for staff changes. He called the situation “offensive” and “upsetting.”
Among the complicated issues to be considered is whether county counsel will have to support the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office in the proposed endeavor, Tran said. Bankruptcy and consumer protection laws are tricky areas of the law requiring solid legal advice, he said.
Tran also said Hudak and Prebula are seeking another manager in part so they can be less involved with day-to-day department operations and focus more on policy and investing. That would be a new model for a county where all department heads do their work and also manage their departments, Tran said.
Granting the request would also mean five of the 14 Treasurer-Tax Collector's Office employees are managers, which could make the department top-heavy. The county could examine the pros and cons of hiring a collection agency, Tran said.
“So many variables needing to be analyzed,” Tran said.
Tran called on the Board of Supervisors to take a roll call vote on the matter. He asked them to choose between his position and that of the Treasurer Tax Collector’s Office.
Supervisors unanimously backed Tran. They didn’t allow Prebula to address them further. Rather, they instructed the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office to continue working with Tran and the Human Resources Department on its request.
“I really think this belongs somewhere else. There’s a process,” Supervisor Diane Dillon said.
Other than that issue, the budget session had little drama. Supervisors had previously tackled the major policies for a balanced budget. Unlike neighboring Sonoma County, the county faces no major budget cuts.
The Board of Supervisors tentatively passed a $515,701,216 budget. Much of that money must go to certain programs, such as health and human services.
The county general fund that supervisors have the most control over calls for $212 million in spending. That’s a $17.1 million increase over the current fiscal year, with salaries and benefits hikes and Sheriff's overtime accounting for $8.9 million.
Napa County’s budget pays for such things as the Sheriff’s office, libraries, rural road repairs, the District Attorney’s and Public Defender’s offices, health and human services, planning and code enforcement for unincorporated areas, the jail, tax collection and elections.