Jim Horn headshot

Jim Horn

Last week, in response to community demand, the Palm Drive Health Care District board of directors voted unanimously to dissolve the district effective July 1. At that point, the district will turn over all assets, contracts, records and debts to the county to wind up the district’s affairs.

This is great news —but it ain’t over yet…

According to three knowledgeable sources, some district board members and staff have privately proposed spending up to $500,000 of our Measure W parcel taxes before dissolution on unidentified "community health" programs. They claim that the district has a “surplus” to be spent before July 1 as they see fit. But as the petitioners for dissolution have stated repeatedly, the voters never approved spending our parcel taxes on these activities. The district was created and the parcel tax approved by voters to support a hospital with an emergency room.

Historically, community health services were never a priority for the district anyway, except when politically expedient. “Community health” programs never appeared in a District budget or financial report until 2015. Over the next three years, as citizens increasingly questioned the need for the district, the board spent about $200,000, mostly in the Russian River and Bodega Bay areas, in an attempt to stem the growing detachment movement.

After the detachments succeeded anyway, community health funding dropped last year to only 3% of the district’s operating budget. But expenditures nearly doubled this year, to more than the previous two years combined, as the dissolution movement grew and the district sought once again to justify its existence.

However, even if these expenditures were legal (they’re not), the board shouldn’t drain the district’s coffers to fund directors’ pet projects, for at least two reasons.

First, understand that Measure W requires the district to determine each year how much money is needed to carry out voter-approved purposes, then set the assessment rate at that level, but not to exceed $155. The Board has never set the assessment less than $155, except as required for the detached areas.

For the current fiscal year, the board determined last June how much money it needed—it’s called the district budget. And the annual budget for “Total Community Health Services” is only $92,000, of which at most only $23,000 remains unspent. If the district doesn’t spend the full budgeted amount in other areas, so that a “surplus” exists, that just means the district taxed us too much in the first place. It doesn’t mean that the board can sweep up what’s left from all other budgeted purposes and spend it now on unbudgeted pet projects.

Second, when the county takes over the affairs of the district on July 1, it will want to inherit a prudent reserve over and above the minimum amount required for debt service. (Remember, the county didn’t volunteer to take over Palm Drive’s affairs—it’s required to do so by law once the district dissolves, and it’s allowed to set the tax rates to cover its administrative costs without losing money itself.)

Unless it inherits a prudent reserve, the county likely will set our parcel tax assessment rate higher to cover itself. So instead of assessing around $108 per parcel (what the detached areas pay now), it may assess an extra $15-$20 per parcel or even more. And we will end up repaying that “surplus” the district spent for projects that we never envisioned or approved in the first place.

In our view, a district deep in debt has no “surplus.” As it is, my 5-month old grandson will be in high school before the district’s $20-plus million debt is paid off in 2034. If the district really has a $500,000 reserve, it could use that money to prepay part of the existing GO bonds. A prepayment of $500,000 now, for example, would save over $300,000 in interest, reducing our property taxes by over $800,000 total!

We will continue to fight so that all available money goes to paying off debt and not funding new programs that voters never approved. We urge district residents to contact the board before its next meeting on June 1 and tell the directors what you think (visit DissolveTheDistrict.com for email addresses and more info). Thank you.

(7) comments

Community Member (not wealthy)

To be clear, this topic is a concern among the privileged- those fortunate enough to have circumstances that have brought about the opportunity to be a Home Owner. This subject should not be of interest to anyone who is not paying property taxes. As it speaks to those with assets and comfort, it will likely not be read by renters, of which there are many here in Sebastopol. They happen to be the folk who work at the restaurants where you like to dine, they also work in retail, at the grocery stores, at gas stations, many 'essential' workers (now confined to masks- too bad they need to breathe), and so on. Renters may not read this because the topic doesn't apply to them. That is unless they happen to be someone in need of support services. This often takes the form of educational events. Promoting a cause or a program is generally intended to address a need. For example, identifying isolated seniors is a valid concern that we can agree is especially important after the 2017 and 2019 fires. There are a myriad of other small scale programs, local concerns that are approached with merit, often involving volunteers. I'm impressed by your indignation that our Health Care District would be irresponsible by an inclusive approach to the residents in this region, who may in fact be in need of opportunities to learn or have access to services that would otherwise be unaffordable. Is it such that when tax payers pay taxes, only the payer should have say on how that money is spent? I know! When the Lords come and add coins to the coffers or even should they throw coins to the ground, we should not be glad for them and pick them like desperate peasants hopeful for a bit of bread. No, we should gather them up and pass them back and say, my Lord, you dropped your coin, I know better than to think you intended this for me. Count your blessings man, that you should have abundant time to excessively criticize a community effort and paint a picture that you're the victim of an unjust world!

El Dorko

If those who still control all these variable are doing something illegal (as indicated in the piece) why not ask the County District Attorney to take a look? Signed: a West County taxpayer sick of all these know-it-all wahoos who screw up everything they touch, and spend our money asmif it were theirs. Call in the D.A. It's time for a reckoning!

pshatkin

why are the words Community Health here in quotes, as if community health is a scam? Community health is something worth working for and investing in. Thoughtful people involved in the District have been working diligently in many ways to help improve the lives of our people . Why not continue?

Gayle

Measure W funds are to be used for a specific purpose: to ensure the survival of Palm Drive Hospital and its ER. The problem is the use of public funds.

BLD

Or in this case, the gross abuse and misuse of public funds.

dogandpony

Actually, community health, as supported by Palm Drive Health Care District, is a scam. Do you think that writing a check for $15,000 to the Sebastopol Community Center to hire a part-time counselor/monitor for the skateboard park makes any sense? You really missed the main point of the letter which is that the parcel tax was approved by the voters to pay for a hospital with an emergency room. Since neither exists, the only legal use of the money is to pay down the debt.

jh2010

The District uses "community health" to describe a very wide variety of programs, but few if any of them are legal uses of our parcel taxes. For example, this spring the District approved $15,000 for a "mentor" to hang out at the Sebastopol Skate Park after school. They spent about the same to fund a poorly attended afterschool club for Analy students.

While some of these programs are worthwhile, none are legal uses of our parcel taxes, and they all carry very high overhead expenses. For example, a draft budget for community health was prepared for next year. Nearly 2/3 of the expenses are for administrative overhead, and only 1/3 is for actual services.

The District is more than $20 million in debt that won't be repaid for 14 years. There are no surplus funds to be spent on anything but paying off that debt.

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