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OPINION: San Benito County Finances Need a Hand

Responsibility for the county’s continuing revenue problems lie with the Board of Supervisors who have failed to deal with the basic issue.

Regular meetings of the San Benito County (SBC) Board of Supervisors are like comic conventions that only allow unfunny “we’re so poor” jokes. Poor has borne the blame for multiple failures or inabilities to get things done on schedule.

Yes, we have less revenue per capita than the five other regional counties, but the Board should try and remedy that situation rather than just wallow in it. Being poor is not San Benito’s destiny given its location, potential, and the more than $1.1 billion brought in annually by commuters.

The county’s primary revenues came from a dozen programs, but only four were significant in 2016; Taxes (22.2%), State Aid (43.5%), Federal Aid (16.0%), and Charges for Current Services without Admin Fees (10.8%). The distribution varies by county and year, but together those components accounted for between 85% to 95% of primary revenue among the six local counties (see attached pdf for data sources and primary revenue categories).

Although all counties failed to report a few details, especially in the early 2000’s, I believe the state data to be relatively accurate; if not that’s another problem.

SBC had the lowest per capita county revenue among the six counties for 12 of 14 years from 2003 to 2016. In 2009 it barely eked out Fresno for fifth place, but did jump to second place for a single year, 2011, thanks only to the infusion of $5.7 million in tobacco settlement funds.

There were two major shortfalls, tax revenue and federal aid.

For 5 years, 2012 – 2016 inclusive, SBC averaged $271 in per capita tax revenue and $215 in per capita federal aid; $486 total. During the same period Monterey County averaged $382 in per capita tax revenue and $295 in per capita federal aid; $677 total.

The annual per capita difference, $191 over 5-years, equates to $10.6 million or $2.1 million less per year for San Benito County’s average population of 56,000.

Improving the local economy to increase good jobs and property values, along with obtaining a fair share of federal aid, are important functions of the Board of Supervisors. At some point they must be called to account for their failure to deal with this fundamental issue that, in their own words, cripples so many programs.


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Marty Richman (Marty Richman)

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Marty (Martin G.) spent his teen years in northern New Jersey. He served more than 22 years on active military duty, mostly in Europe, and is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, Nuclear Weapons Technical Officer.Marty then worked 25 years in various engineering and management positions in the electronics and energetic materials industries supporting the communications, computer, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, from The College of Hard Knocks, among his numerous awards and accomplishments. He was a regular weekly Op/Ed columnist and feature writer for The Hollister Free Lance for seven years and a member of its editorial board for five years. Marty is a frequent commentator and contributor to BenitoLink on a wide variety of local, state, national and international subjects. You can follow Marty Richman on twitter @Marty_Richman. Marty and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Hollister since 1996.


Submitted by (Mark Medina) on

Thank you for your input Mr. Richman. Funds from local, state, and federal sources along with lack of businesses appear to be the root cause of our lack of top line revenue but in your opinion what can the county and city elected officials do to change this revenue matter.

Hi Supervisor Medina, thanks for asking.

In my opinion the county should be more business friendly and aggressive in courting non-Ag business.  I understand the historical commitment to Ag, it remains important, but it  does not generate enough good jobs, high property values, or significant disposable income.  We are NOT an Ag county anymore, we have allowed SBC to become a bedroom community.

The county had proposed crumbs and zero staff help for economic development.  It makes one believe that a majority of the board is going out of their way to stifle economic development. Prior to your election they actually voted to remove Highway 25 from the Caltrans improvement list - politics over reason. 

On cannabis, the majority just voted to nickle and dime personal growers but said we do not have the staff to get the commercial ordinance done correctly in short oder  Aren't those two things done by the same staff?  A dysfunctional RMA cannot do a good job on any development - residential or commercial - and it has been kept short-staffed for years.  The county has refused to apply a sales tax to the unincorporated area, what if we finally get the 101 commercial nodes and what does it cost in vehicle purchases alone? That's just for starters on property taxes and other taxes.

As for federal aid - if we do not track it, identify programs and go after them aggressively we won't get them.  Again, there is a difference between spending and investing.  I understand getting less federal aid per capita than Fresno or Merced, but less than Santa Cruz or Santa Clara?

Marty Richman

The Board of Supervisors have proven themselves inept at economic development, job creation and raising tax revenue. However, it is also obvious from citizen apathy that our community doesn't expect superior performance from its leaders based on recent elections wherein two supervisors ran unopposed.

Where oil exploration in south county using safe extraction methods looked promising, those businesses were shut down with help from the BOS.

Where solar power near Panoche looked promising, environmentalist extremists gutted the project; supervisors feigned outrage after they failed to supervise and monitor litigation and compromises to the scope of the project. 

Where a nascent commercial cannabis industry looks promising, the BOS and its ad hoc committee failed to negotiate mutually beneficial regulation, taxation and community benefit models prior to Prop. 64 laws going into effect in January.

'The buck stops here' at the seats of the BOS... but the problem is the buck never reaches the county coffers because supervisors collectively fail to extract revenue from petroleum, solar or cannabis operations. 

Thanks for the data, Marty. It's a bittersweet reflection of poor leadership executed by the San Benito County Board of Supervisors. 

Submitted by Ken Dunn (kenneth) on

I don't know a lot about SBC's finances but will study it more, but I looks like common sense to not spend more money on HI 25 unless one plans to widen HI 101, which in light of the recent video of nightmare traffic in Los Angeles, would be sheer lunacy. I lived in S.Cal when the Government told us that widening that Hiway would solve our traffic problems. It's now twelve lanes and the traffic is worse than ever. It does appear very much that widening streets and roads just makes traffic worse everywhere I see it. The jam we see at Prospect and Nash at rush hour will soon be an all day affair. In many ways Hollister was a nicer place to live before the "big city intersections" arrived, they seem to just attract more traffic. If I'm wrong about this, can someone please explain it to me. The same voices that tell us we should not be a "Bedroom Community" also want us to widen HI 25, which would make it easier for the "Bedroom Community" to grow. We need more traffic the way we need more Big Store Facades blocking our view of the beautiful surrounding mountains that used to make a day in Hollister something wonderful. I guess Safeway and Target, etc. don't think that mountain views are wonderful at all and their way too tall facades with their Corporate Logos are much more pleasing to the eye and the spirit than the dumb old mountains. I truly believe I could still read their Corporate I.D.s if they were half as big and half as tall. Don't we all resent those exaggerated storefronts just a little bit? It would not surprise me if there was a plan to level that pesky old Pacheco Pass, it's really just an obstacle in the way of more "progress", isn't it? And mountains have very little economic value, right? Wouldn't we rather see a Dep't Store there instead?

Yes, Mr. Dunn, and improving local medical care choices or offering a good post-secondary education here is bound to ruin the place not mention the threat of a better library.  It's not just the quantity of what you have, it's the quality and quality costs money.  As one who opposes "me-too" development I would not want any of the good things to go away, but you offer the typical false choice.

Retail, about 13 percent of which is now online and growing, is NOT the answer.  I do not classify retail as good jobs, but it does generate taxes for the good things.

Refusing to fix the roads will not force people to stop going to work to make a living.  Growing local quality employment that can pay the mortgage and the college education for the kids actually takes people off the roads.  We do owe the commuters (I am not one) a good ride because they have paid for it in spades.

Besides, it's too late to dig a moat and fill it alligators, we are a bedroom community like it or not and the costs are mandated by a million local, state and federal laws and regulations and the cost of housing is the result of same system.  There is always someone determined to kick the door closed on the next "guy" and almost always after they get in themselves.

The mountains and flora and fauna are, in fact, well-protected and appreciated by our new residents. 

Expensive government mandates must be met and they keep the place clean and nice for all, but we have to pay for it.  The people who come tomorrow will be as good as you or I.

Time to move ahead - carefully - but it's time to get out of the poorhouse.

Marty Richman

The data in this article are probably dead-on. The pros and cons in the comments section are all correct. So what?  NOBODY CARES! The lights turn on, the water flows, the alarm clock goes off at 4:00 am. Apathy and inertia are alive and well and supported by the BOS. Your data prove it. No one silently reading this comment is going to change that.

We need to spend less time with statistics and more time seeking (and financing) qualified, charismatic, forward-looking, business-oriented people to run for government. Not liberal pinheads or Trump wannabees, but solid county residents with a resume of accomplishments, not position titles.

--William McCarey

Submitted by Ken Dunn (kenneth) on

The current library is just fine. Hollister has 10x more people than when I was in high school (not so long ago). If population growth were the answer to our problems, Hollister would be perfect today, and L.A. would be heaven. Since you don't seem to like retail, and agriculture turns you off, I must assume you'd like to see Hollister with lots of factories,and more hospitals, like back east where I've done some touring. The factory environment is not for everyone, if it was, there would not be so many back-easter's moving to Ca. and for those who want more factories, they already exist on the east side of the country and they are ready for anyone who wants to move there. I don't see how we owe commuters anything, I have no contract with commuters, they came here because it was better than what they left, and they clog the roads so that we locals cannot get around anymore, and that's payment enough. Of course locals don't really matter to those who are not really from here, but I like your alligator idea, not joking, SBC had much more wildlife before it became overpopulated with humans, and wildlife does improve the environment rather than destroy it. There are still some folks who believe that using one's imagination to improve their lifestyle produces a better product than just bringing in more warm bodies. Unlike the fellow just before, I think that lots of people do care, but they just need to give their good ideas to our current leaders, that would be a good start. Thanks so much for stimulating my mind, I don't get much of that these days. Oh, we do have a decent college nearby, and I agree that more of us should use it because a future filled with construction jobs leads to a very depressing future.

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