The board heard a report on the developing situation around COVID-19 from Siskiyou County Director of Public Health Shelly Davis.
During their first meeting since the March 3 election, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors considered almost $2 million that the county owes the State of California, heard about COVID-19 preparedness in the county, and discussed the impact of the recently passed hotel tax increase.
Supervisors and staff were quick to address a constituent’s recent letter to the board questioning the writing off of $1,903,731 that was overpaid to HealTherapy more than a decade ago. Between November 2005 and June 2010, Behavioral Health contracted with HealTherapy to provide clinical services. In 2013, a Department of Health Care Services audit concluded that Siskiyou County authorized and paid HealTherapy for ineligible Medi-Cal services.
“With regard to the HealTherapy item, we did receive a comment letter,” County Administrator Terry Barber said to the supervisors. “It is no secret that Behavioral Health has had its financial struggles and woes ... It has played out very publicly over the years.”
Barber said the county has always acted above board regarding the matter, and there is no other option for the county than to write off the overpayment to HealTherapy, which provides therapy with the assistance of horses. Barber stressed that the required repayment to the state will not come from the county’s general fund, but from funding set aside specifically for medical services. This money could not be used to fund the library, for instance.
“The state did ask the county for those funds to be reimbursed,” Barber said. “The county agreed to incorporate that into the payback settlement.”
District 4 Supervisor Lisa Nixon agreed with Barber’s defense of the county’s action.
“I do not want any member of the public to be left with the impression that the board has not been aware of this ongoing issue and is not thoroughly versed on what we are agreeing to here today.” Nixon said. “I can’t tell you I agreed with every decision along the way, but there were absolutely legitimate reasons for making all the decisions we made along the way.”
After putting old business behind them, the board heard a report on the developing situation around COVID-19 from Siskiyou County Director of Public Health Shelly Davis.
As of the meeting, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Siskiyou County, Davis reported, adding that there was one case under investigation that came back negative. For any suspected cases of the virus, public health officials are required to follow up with patients multiple times per day to monitor temperature and make sure symptoms are improving until a test result comes back. Davis and her team are also looking at vulnerable populations that pass through the county jail.
“As you know, our correctional facility here is a hub for staying over,” said Davis. “People that are being routed from Montana, Washington, Oregon will stay in Siskiyou County for the night. And people coming from South California will stay in Siskiyou County before going north. I really see that this is an area we don’t want to overlook.”
Davis said county health officials developed a questionnaire for incoming inmate transfers and a protocol to deal with any feverish inmates. The jail also has two rooms equipped with proper ventilation to isolate those in need.
Lake Siskiyou Campground
On the heels of the COVID-19 report that called for social distancing, a representative from Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort pleaded for help in running the popular campground outside Mount Shasta and offered it as an alternative for vacationers looking for space.
“Unlike a cruise, they are outdoors,” said campground representative Tim Reynolds about the lakeside campground. “Maybe they will look at this as the one and only place to go and recreate with family.”
Regardless of the impact of COVID-19, Reynolds reported that the popular camp was running a deficit. With the increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax, a scheduled increase in the minimum wage, and continued cost increases, the campground is looking at continued deficits unless something changes. With upwards of 60,000 visitors a year, Reynolds explained that the campground brings in $63,000 in taxes to the county through occupancy taxes and that the taxes generated will increase another $35,000 next year with the voter-approved increase.
“Even though we were granted an increase in rates last year of $2 per site, we lost $45,000 last year.” Reynolds said. “There is nowhere to go other than to increase rates or ask the concessioner to bear a larger burden.”
Aside from bringing in needed tax revenue to the county, the campground employs 109 seasonal workers who put in 44,000 hours of work a year. Reynolds hoped that the newly enacted TOT measure would not put the campground in further jeopardy.
District 1 Supervisor Brandon Criss and District 2 Supervisor Ed Valenzuela raised their own concerns with other unintended consequences of the measure.
“Their concern is maybe this increases (tax) in McCloud in comparison with Mount Shasta and Yreka,” said Criss about business owners in his district who are worried about uneven rates across the county. “It’s a valid concern. They don’t want to drive away customers.”
Valenzuela pointed to a discrepancy in the rates between towns and unincorporated areas, highlighting the need to address the matter as the TOT increase comes into effect.
“Now as it turns out, the county is going to be paying two percent more than the cities,” Valenzuela said. “I was led to believe we were going to be on the same page.”
In other business, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to extend the local emergency related to the proliferation of illegal cannabis cultivation, heard an update on the 2020 U.S. Census activities in the county, and heard reports from individual supervisors.