Going “Deep Green” Among Napa County Budget Options

Napa County is already looking ahead to a 2017-18 budget that raises such questions as to whether county buildings should use 100 percent renewable energy.

But adding bold new, far-reaching county programs? That doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

“We expect this to be a fairly lean budget year,” Assistant County Executive Officer Alice Hughey said.

 The 2017-18 budget year begins on July 1. The starting point is the present $449 million county budget, including the $197 million general fund budget that the Board of Supervisors has the most discretion over.

Money goes to diverse expenses, among them running the library, providing medical and other public health services for the poor, making planning decisions for rural wine country, running elections, assessing property values and prosecuting and defending accused criminals.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 10 began discussing such 2017-18 budget issues as the county’s electricity deal with Marin Clean Energy. The county powers its buildings with the Light Green program, which is 50 percent renewable energy.

Staff raised the possibility of going Deep Green, which is 100 percent renewable energy from such sources as solar, wind and biogas. That would raise energy costs about 5 percent, or $100,000 annually.

This is the same decision that homeowners and businesses also face, as supervisors well know. Marin Clean Energy and its “Light Green” program is the default power service for the county and its five cities.

“I personally have gone to Deep Green,” Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Wagenknecht said he’d like to hear a presentation from county public works and Marin Clean Energy on why the county might want to switch to Deep Green. He called $100,000 “real money.”

Supervisor Ryan Gregory said having the county go Deep Green would be “a way to walk the walk.”

Gregory and Supervisor Diane Dillon wanted to find out how going Deep Green could meaningfully contribute to the county’s carbon-cutting efforts with its evolving Climate Action Plan.

“Is there something else we can do for $100,000 that does that?” Dillon said. “I think that’s what we need to know.”

A looming issue beyond day-to-day operations is the county’s building project list.

“We think we’re really going to need to emphasize big capital expenses that are not discretionary, including but certainly not limited to a new jail,” Hughey said.

The county has about $52.1 million set aside for a new jail, including $22.8 million in state funding, Hughey said. A 96-bed, first-phase jail could cost $68 million. County officials say the existing downtown Napa jail is too small and not suited for today’s needs.

County officials are working on firmer jail cost estimates and should ask the Board of Supervisors in late February how to address the gap, Hughey said.

But the county also has $8 million in other needed capital projects that are unbudgeted, she said. These include spending $3.5 million to remodel to a South Campus building, $1.8 million on South Campus sidewalks, $120,000 on various parking lot paving projects and $325,000 for a Sheriff’s Office camera system.

All of this would leave the county with only $900,000 in its fund for major capital projects such as building and infrastructure – and that doesn’t count the gap for the new jail.

The Board of Supervisors will have a mid-year budget review on April 4 and a 2017-18 budget study session on April 18. Budget hearings are scheduled for June 12, 13 and 20.

Napa County’s budget is a mixture of local, state and federal funds, much of which must be spent in certain ways. But Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza sees an analogy that puts the budget in perspective.

“For me, it’s very simple,” Pedroza said. “It’s like a household budget. We have money coming in, we have money going out. But we’re setting money aside for expenses, just like a household budget.”

Going “Deep Green” Among Napa County Budget Options, by Barry Eberling, The Napa Valley Register, January 22, 2017.

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