July 4, 2012 NEWS

Board of Supervisors July 3

July 3 Board of Supervisors

The meeting began with a salute to the American Flag and immediately went into news about the Secure Rural Schools Act. Although it is safe for the time being, District I Supervisor Lee Adams said the Board needed to have a frank discussion with our Congressional Representative Tom McClintock who did not support the re-enactment, and Adams was shocked considering the rural counties that McClintock represented and how devastating it would be to the county not to mention the county schools to lose this income. Adams requested it be placed on the next Board Agenda, the other were also shocked and agreed a frank discussion needed to take place.

USFS District Ranger Genice Froelich wished the country a Happy Birthday tomorrow and let everyone know Tahoe National and Plumas Forest’s are under fire restrictions with only propane or butane burners outside of campgrounds with fire rings, no charcoal or open fires allowed. Although fuel cutting is ok with spark arresters in place.  Much of TNF staff is on fires around the country however Engine 32 is still based in Downieville.

Froelich reminded everyone that Packer Lake Kids’ Fishing Day is scheduled for Saturday, July 21 from 8 a.m. till 1 p.m. and will feature family fishing, making fish print shirts (bring your own T-shirt, some fishing gear will be available to borrow. Hotdogs and sodas for purchase or bring a picnic lunch. Anyone over 16 better be licensed and the fishing limits do apply to all. No dogs, no boats, the event is sponsored by Sierra County Fish & Game Commission, Tahoe National Forest and the California Department of Fish and Game. That was pretty much the end of any good news.

First item on the agenda was to remove Sierra County Department of Mental Health from the Sierra County Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider list.  Health & Human Services Director, Janice Maddox, cited Health and Safety Code Section 1300.43.11 as a reason why county employees should not use County Mental Health as an EAP as then employee supervisors would have access to confidential information regarding employee healthcare.

A letter from Sarah Jackson, Public Health Assistant for the county questioned if in fact the Board had chosen to discontinue the EAP as stated by Maddox.  The letter outlined the reasons why having an EAP available in county would cost the county less in loss employee time on the job.  Jackson demonstrated with the recent appointment of Mental Health Supervisor, April Waldo: “who would be able to ensure compliance along with Kathryn Hill, the newly contracted Marriage and Family Therapist who was contracted in part to perform Quality Assurance audits of the Mental Health Charts. Following Director Maddox’s reasoning it would seem that if a County employee were to qualify for Medi-Cal, Food Stamps, or the WIC program, that employee should not be able to receive services in Sierra County because Director Maddox could not review their records or their protected health information. That logic seems flawed as she is appointing ad contracting capable individuals who can perform these quality assurance duties while still allowing the person receiving the services their confidentiality.

At 10.a.m. the Board broke and reconvened as the Board of Equalization, Assessor Laura Marshall presented two applications for Changed Assessment Value resulting in almost $400,000 of drops in property value. One of them being a $330,349 to RE Loans, LLC, owner of several properties foreclosed on in the county. Not good news for the budget.

The morning session quickly went through the Finance Committee’s recommendations and discovered they were still at a $456,994 deficit in the 2012-13 budget and when they broke for closed session were upping the last ante from laying off or cutting 6 to 7 personnel.  Chairman Nunes said, “we’re three days into the new fiscal year and we’re bleeding, we need to take action to stop the bleeding.”

Whipping through the Finance Committee’s suggestions to cut spending or increase revenue with most recommendations being adhere too, no more bottled water for county employees, anyone who owes the county fees for anything will be billed and it will be collected, Fees will be charged for anything beyove and beyond normal routine service. However the Airport in Sierraville will continue to get $15,000 a year for maintenance. Sierra Brooks Water System will be reevaluated as to cost effectiveness; county care or contractor care is the question.

There were several items left on the agenda when the lunch break occurred after the closed session where employee negotiations were discussed but the media representative had to leave to prepare for a July 4th Family reunion and may update this on the weekend.

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June 27, 2012 Epic Finance Committee Meeting

The room slowly filled on Tuesday, June 26, with friendly chatter amongst the attendees. In the pews sat Assessor Laura Marshall, Sheriff John Evans, District Attorney Larry Allen, Probation Chief Jeff Bosworth, Public Works & Planning Director Tim Beals, Health & Human Services Director Janice Maddox, Employee Reps Chris Alexander, Billy Epps, Dennis Marsh, Bryan Davey, Michelle Anderson and Brandon Pangman waiting for the fun to begin.

Sitting on the dais were the delegated Finance Committee County Supervisors Lee Adams and Bill Nunes, County Clerk Heather Foster, County Counsel Jim Curtis, Auditor/Risk Manager/Tax Collector Van Maddox.

At a small table designed for one at the center of the viewing area in a prominent position sat an Editor of a local newspaper known as the Mount Mess. Cowering in the back of the room sat another media representative attempting to be quiet and inconspicuous.

There were three items on the Committee’s agenda. The first item, a simple review and update of recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on the Preliminary Budget (PB) for 2012-13 took a long time, a very long time. Apparently the first PB had shown a (0) balance on the negative side but since then the Auditor had discovered ($311,449) that had to be added to the original figures resulting in a deficit of that amount.

A long discussion with Probation Chief Bosworth about the ability of using money in a grant to supplement his budget, based on the words “supplant or supplement” ensued with the end result being a decision to not allow the money to be used for his budget as his request might be interpreted as supplementing rather than supplanting, so immediately another $100,000 was added to the budget deficit.

Assessor Marshall then threw in the information that housing values were continuing to decline and she had more requests for re-assessments and her Secured Tax roll income to the county would most likely be another $100,000 loss to an already determined loss of $50,000. Marshall explained, a recent sale was of a $240,000 house that had taxes of $1,800 per year and had just sold for $70,000 resulting in a tax loss of  $1,000 and since it was a sale the recovery rate would be slow at a maximum of 2% a year, whereas a reassessment can rebound as values rise.  It didn’t sound good for the county. Good for house buyers in this market but not county revenue.

At that point the deficit was now up to ($511,449) and the pew sitters twisted uncomfortably in the wind as the Committee moved on to:

Item 2) Discussion/recommendation to the BOS on cost savings proposals, revenue proposals and possible structural changes for the 2012-13 Budget and future years.

Brandon Pangman presented a six page document which eloquently outlined the situation of Sierra County employees and the lack of cost of living raises and the increased cost of health benefits borne by the employees has resulted in a significant 15-20% decrease in take home salaries of employees between 2008 and 2012 while inflation has risen more than 12%.

The Committee then moved on to go through the “List” of possible ways to save money. Bryan Davey then asked to be acknowledged to make a statement. At the June 19 BOS meeting in Loyalton the employees had submitted a list of suggestions to the Supervisors suggesting some potential ways to cut costs and save employees for layoffs, furloughs and wage reduction. Some of the Supervisors reacted to the sincere attempt of the employees to help the financial situation as though the employees were insulting them and did not appreciate the list and appeared to be angered over the audacity of the employees to communicate with them.

Davey’s statement was to help the committee understand that the employee list of suggestions was the result of brainstorming and that all ideas were included in the list, good and bad, the list was not censored and everyone who contributed a thought or idea was included just as a brainstorming session is supposed to do. Even a bad idea might spur a good idea. There was no disrespect intended and this was an attempt to help.

The “List” then before the Committee included ideas from both employees and department manager’s and was divided into three sections. Category I – Proposals that could impact the 2012-13 county budget, cost savings or revenue increases contained sixty-six suggestions. And the committee proceeded to talk about each one. After an hour was expended on the first three, Nunes and Adams then began to group them into categories to speed things up. Thirteen were determined to be up to dept managers and the County Clerk was directed to send a letter to them suggesting they address them. Strangely the most controversial was Item 14 Eliminate bottled water- Assessor Marshall objected strongly as did other Dept Heads referring to the fact there were no working water fountains for employees and visitors, not to mention how the tap water tasted coming out of ancient pipes. Somehow Supervisor Nunes made it his personal mission to get rid of bottled water and one wondered was this a reaction to the Pangman presentation that ended with the statement, “Employees have made concessions; we’ve been living with them, mounting for years now, and it’s taking its toll on morale. Any more is simply intolerable to many of us, if you listen to what’s being said around the water cooler (which, you may note, is also on “the list #20)”.  It seemed a direct negative message to the employees. But hey, I was just watching.

The discussion continued for hours and hours and at one point an astute trained observer surveyed the attendees and noted there were eight plaid and two striped shirts in the room, raising a brief thought process about trends in men’s clothing. It was apparent that most of costs saving procedures are already in place although eventually enough was found to possibly decrease the deficit by $100,000 leaving only a ($411,499) deficit.

Category II: Proposals that could impact future county budgets, cost savings or revenue increases didn’t get addressed until 3 p.m. and contained only 17 items. A big discussion about the Sierra Brooks Water System becoming a PUD took a lot of time, finally resulting in direction to start looking into the process and the cost benefit to the county if any.

A suggestion from the audience to enforce parking fees, collecting revenue and establishing residential parking with stickers available for a fee, got a disparaging response evidently no one wants to anger business owners and constituents. A source of revenue kicked to the curb again.

Category III: Long range, structural and analytical proposals for county fiscal operation contained only six items and this report doesn’t know if they were discussed as the brain, butt and back were in a state of pain and had to leave the meeting knowing full well the pain would replay at the Supervisors Meeting in Downieville on July 3.

The meeting was good, lot’s of things were discussed that needed to be, it appears the county is in dire financial straits and stringent actions will be needed to get through the next couple of years. It would be reasonable for any cuts to be fair to all departments and employees There has been no public talk about the Supervisors and Department Heads stepping up to share the burden of payroll cuts in their own salaries, let’s hope they are up to the task. Often they mention how much more work they have to do when they don’t have full staffing but that is also a burden shared by their employees, they all increase their workload and work out of classification to make county government work for everyone in Sierra County, so everyone should do what they can and help the county get through this period.

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GRAND JURY INTERIM REPORT 6/26/12
The 2011-12 Sierra County Grand Jury released their first report and addressed the issue of whether Sierra County should have a Chief Administrative Officer to make everyone in county government  be nice to each other.  This was tried once before in 1977 and the CAO lasted a year and since then the duties of a CAO have been parceled out amongst the County Counsel, District Attorney and Auditor/Risk Manager. There are only two hired Department Heads and the rest are elected so whether a CAO would have much impact is questionable. The other issue of course is  while the County Department Heads, two County Supervisors, County Counsel, and representatives spent June 26 in an all day Finance Committee meeting trying to find away to minimize layoffs and other personnel cuts, the GJ seems to be in a world where money is no object and readily available to hire a pricey Big Head. But see for yourself by reading the report linked here.

3 thoughts on “July 4, 2012 NEWS

  1. Actually, the time spent on SB water yesterday had to do with the county contracting out the work, services, up-keep on the system, rather than Tim’s office doing it. That is what we voted to research – not anything to do with a PUD. The county still runs the system whether it’s contracted by a private company or by the county.

  2. Dear Prospect,
    I am not sure why the Sierra Brooks water system is a subject of discussion at the finance committee. The majority of expenditure in Sierra County is payroll, and everyone knows it. The citizens of Sierra Brooks pay our own way through water fees for the current non-compliant, sub-par system. In fact, we pay the salary of our part time water employee, the engineer’s fees and costs, the electricity for the wells and pumps, and everything, right out of our water fee account service area 4a/5a. We are right smack in the middle of an upgrade with a land swap between Sierra Brooks Property Owner’s Association and Fish & Game so that we can place a well and have access to a new tank on Forest Service land. The Board of Supervisors approved 5-0 that the county should proceed with the upgrade, seek the USDA low interest loan, go forward with the land swap, et al, yet a few months later this is a subject of discussion at the finance committee? We already discussed the idea of a PUD in that very board meeting and it was decided, since this would take years and a LAFCO, that we would first bring the system up to standards with public safety and the state. I sincerely hope that this subject, continually brought up at meetings where I’m not in attendance, is not purely political, because at this point of kicking a dead horse and undermining current efforts with DFG and SBHOA, is sending mixed messages to my constituents. The full Board voted on this subject already and efforts have begun on this 10 year delayed project. My constituents deserve better than to send the message that on one day the full board votes to go forward, and on another day where the majority of the board is not in attendance, a committee votes to do something different. The Sierra Brooks water system upgrade project will continue forward.

  3. Can the county continue to pay out millions ,as in the past, for wrongful termination and sexual harrassment claims adjucated by non-professionals who are trying to do a good job, but do not have the professional training required to anticipate and mitigate employee claims. The County can not continue to use the excuse “we do not have the money”, because they have to come up with a lot of money to continually pay these claims.

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