Officials are scrambling at the Calaveras County Government Center, where a recent decision to ban commercial cannabis cultivation has put nearly 30 jobs at risk in the short term.
The ban puts into jeopardy about 26 jobs, from departments responsible for code compliance, law enforcement, planning and environmental health, said Calaveras County Auditor-Controller Rebecca Callen.
“There were a lot of positions that were related to the regulatory program,” said Callen. “When that goes away, the work goes away.”
Work in the county’s cannabis regulatory program was funded largely by $3.7 million in fees the county collected two years ago from farmers seeking to become registered growers. What happens next will be subject to discussion and deliberations by county supervisors, who ultimately have the final say in the decisions to cut.
The scope and nature of the uncertainty arises from the anticipated demise of an industry that was identified by a University of Pacific study in 2016 as the largest economic contributor in the county.
Callen said officials and financial experts have been hopping from meeting to meeting at the county offices in San Andreas since the decision, trying to identify the impact upon the regulatory program and timelines moving forward.
Meanwhile, collections from the cannabis tax imposed on growers are down. After sending bills that totaled $7.2 million in November, Calaveras received only $3.6 million before late payment penalties kicked in on Jan. 16, according to Barbara Sullivan, the county treasurer-tax collector.
The roughly 50 percent payment rate is far below the 90 percent payment mark the county saw earlier in 2017. Before the November billing, Calaveras received $7.4 million of the $8.2 million it billed to cannabis farmers during the first installment.
“Half of those people did not pay because they assumed the ban was going to be passed,” said Callen, who prefaced her response by saying she was speculating.
Job cuts are imminent, Callen said. The only questions are how many and when?
First to go will be the extra hires and temporary workers brought in for the cannabis regulation and taxation program, said Callen. Next will be provisional workers of all kinds. Third in line will be limited-term jobs tied to the cannabis regulatory program.
After those preliminary cuts, permanent county employees can be laid off if required by budget shortfalls.
Currently, Calaveras County Code Compliance and the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office have the most employees working in the county’s regulatory program, said County Administrative Officer Tim Lutz.
Among five code compliance officers, three are funded by the program. All are full-time county employees, said Lutz.
County Building Official Ed Short said in December that his office would have fewer resources and manpower to support civil actions against illegal growers if a ban were to be put in place. He declined to comment further when contacted on Jan. 19.
The Sheriff’s Office has 11 positions funded in some way by the cannabis program, said Lutz. Of that number, about five were left vacant in anticipation of the ban. All deputies also charge time on duties outside the cannabis program, Lutz said.
Moving forward, the marijuana enforcement team at the Sheriff’s Office appears to be safe, Sheriff Rick DiBasilio said at a recent public meeting in Arnold. Lutz said later all decisions are “preliminary.”
Other departments that have positions designated as having a connection with the cannabis program include:
**five (extra and limited-term) with the Calaveras County Planning Department,
**three (currently vacant) with Calaveras County Environmental Health,
**one (regular) with the agriculture commissioner,
**one (limited term) with Calaveras County Counsel,
**and one (limited term) in the administrative office.
Officials identify the midyear budget reviews at the end of February as the point when there will be greater clarity to inform the discussions and decisions on downsizing. Lutz said Calaveras County supervisors will begin deliberations regarding the resources and obligations of each county department.
As it stands, District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli is the only supervisor on the board who has voted in favor of county layoffs. In 2011, he joined Tom Tryon and Merita Callaway in voting to eliminate 13 jobs, five of which were vacant at the time.
In the meantime, workers in positions related to cannabis will continue to process applications.
Lutz said officials did not want to cause problems for farmers who had registered in Calaveras before the ban and may be interested in relocating elsewhere to continue.
“Our goal is to continue to evaluate how long we need to do it,” said Lutz. “We want to make sure, from a local perspective, we’re closing this program out.”
Despite the discrepancies in cannabis tax payments during the second installment, the county’s budget does not appear to be hurting for it.
Callen said the county did not figure any cannabis tax monies into the 2016-17 fiscal year budget because officials did not have any data to use for projections. During that fiscal year, the county received $7.4 million from cannabis taxes and spent $5 million on expenses related to the cannabis program.
For the 2017-18 fiscal year, the county budgeted $2 million in additional cannabis expenses, saved about $2.4 million in expenses carried over from the previous fiscal year and received about $3.6 million in tax payments.
“It was a plus for revenue on both last fiscal year and this fiscal year,” said Callen.