Here’s a question: Should two elected positions in the Humboldt County government — treasurer-tax collector and auditor-controller — be consolidated into a single director of finance, whose job would be to oversee a single Department of Finance?

Quick follow-up for those who answered “yes” (or “maybe” or “I don’t know; tell me more”): If that position IS created, should that person be elected by voters or appointed by the Board of Supervisors?

If you’ve lived and voted in Humboldt County for a while, you might recognize those exact questions from your 2016 General Election ballot, when they were packaged as Measure Q and Measure R. Both measures were narrowly defeated at the ballot box, which is why, to this day, the county still has an independently elected treasurer-tax collector (Amy Christensen) and auditor-controller (Cheryl Dillingham). 

But a whole heckuva lot has happened in the past six years, and Board Chair Virginia Bass thinks it’s time to take a fresh look at this proposition. 

“I think it’s been quite the conversation in the community for quite some time,” Bass said when reached by phone Monday. “I also know from groups that I’ve talked to in the past several months, they’ve asked why we have the system set up as it is. … I think there’s reason to have a conversation about it tomorrow.”

At tomorrow’s regular meeting, the Board of Supervisors will consider placing a ballot measure on the June March 2024 ballot to create the Department of Finance. If the idea gains any traction at all, the board can ask staff to return at a later date with information on election timeframes, costs to support such a ballot measure and other considerations.

The argument in favor of consolidation last time around went something like this: Combining these two relatively small departments would increase efficiency, offer more opportunities for employee cross-training, provide better backup coverage for staff and facilitate better succession planning.

During the fiscal chaos that characterized the past four years of county government, another argument arose more than once: Maybe the Board of Supervisors should have the power to fire the county’s auditor-controller. 

A staff report prepared for tomorrow’s discussion says consolidation would increase overall staffing levels in the two departments. The Auditor-Controller’s office currently has 19 approved positions while the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s office has 10, and both departments are struggling to hire and retain staff, as is the case across county government.

“Combining the departments will also provide opportunities to create more efficient and effective processes, procedures and communication,” the staff report says.

Six years ago, opponents of measures Q balked at the idea of taking decision-making power away from voters. They also argued that the skills and experience required for the two distinct roles are significantly different from one another and not easily acquired. 

And last time around, both the sitting auditor-controller (Joe Mellet) and the sitting treasurer-tax collector (John Bartholomew) argued against consolidation. They’ve both since retired.

If anyone from the public would like to weigh in on these questions, you can either email the board (cob@co.humboldt.ca.us), show up to the meeting in person or watch it via TV or Zoom (a link will appear on this page once the meeting gets under way) and call in when they get to that item on the agenda. 

Call-in instructions:

When the Board of Supervisors announce the agenda item that you wish to comment on, call the conference line 720-707-2699, enter Meeting ID 854-6053-9347 and press star (*) 9 on your phone, this will raise your hand. You’ll continue to hear the Board meeting on the call.