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Board begins budget discussions - Sheriff shares scathing comments for latest music fest

Debra Moore
Staff Writer

Two topics dominated the Board of Supervisors’ June 6 meeting: the 2014-15 budget and Belden music festivals.

Department heads and elected officials filled the boardroom as the county’s budget consultant, Susan Scarlett, reviewed preliminary numbers for the next fiscal year.

Based on anticipated revenues and expenditures, the county is looking at a $3.3 million budget shortfall. That compares to a $1.7 million shortfall that the supervisors faced a year ago.

“I was really surprised,” said Supervisor Sherrie Thrall during an interview the following day. “I was expecting it to be closer to what it was last year.”

When faced with the $1.7 million shortfall last year, the supervisors reviewed the budgets line by line, made cuts wherever possible and implemented furloughs.

The supervisors will study the budgets again. “We asked the departments to submit status quo budgets and some of them were off,” Thrall said. “I think some had misunderstandings.”

Scarlett presented mostly status quo budgets supplied by the departments, but many also submitted alternative spending plans that contain additional expenditures for more staff.

“None of the scenarios include the additional personnel requested,” Scarlett told the supervisors.

And that’s what concerns Thrall the most. “I know many departments truly need help,” she said, but doesn’t know how that will be possible.

“I think it’s going to be pretty grim,” she said of the overall budget.

The budget shortfall is due to both a drop in revenue and an increase in expenditures.

Thrall wants to review sales tax revenues and ensure that the county is collecting sales tax captured by Internet purchases.

“Are we getting that sale tax back?” she asked.

Those questions and more will be answered in the coming weeks as the supervisors meet with department heads in preparation for this summer’s budget hearings.

Music fests

During their June 3 meeting, the supervisors delayed approving a permit for the Priceless music festival scheduled for the July 4 holiday weekend in Belden after representatives of Plumas District Hospital expressed concerns about being able to respond to emergencies there and elsewhere.

A festival earlier this year resulted in five ambulance runs, with only two transports. The possibility of a repeat performance on the busy holiday weekend worried the emergency responders as well as county leaders.

The supervisors addressed the issue again June 10 and this time festival organizers were present to assure the board that they would provide licensed EMTs on site and were working to contract with a private ambulance service.

The June 10 discussion came just two days after another music festival, Raindance, caused Sheriff Greg Hagwood to speak out.

“Medical is a big issue, but it’s not the only issue,” he said. He then described the behavior that his deputies were subjected to when they visited the site.

“There were groups of people running in front of my officer, dropping acid, taunting him,” he said. “I have lost confidence in the ability of the management” at Belden and questioned their seriousness about overseeing events.

Richie Folen, who represented Belden at the meeting, said he understood the sheriff’s concerns and that he shut down the ticket booth when the maximum attendance was exceeded, violating the fire code.

“That event may never come back,” Hagwood said of Raindance.

Supervisor Thrall suggested that the names of events and their promoters be logged, so that when there was a bad experience, neither would be allowed to return.

But Thrall didn’t favor penalizing all festivals because of the bad behavior of some.

The Priceless promoters said that during the past eight years, there have not been issues with their music festival.

Belden’s security consultant said that this would be the fifth time he would be working with Priceless and described the promoters as “educated and well organized.”

“It sounds like they’ve got their act together,” Supervisor Terry Swofford said.

The supervisors approved the permit, contingent upon receiving more detailed medical coverage information.

The board also asked that a new county ordinance be drafted so that permits are considered well in advance of their event dates.

The current ordinance requires a maximum of 60 days and a minimum of 30 days before the event, which doesn’t leave enough time for the county or the promoters to react to potential problems, because tickets are sold well in advance.

The supervisors are scheduled July 1 to hear requests for two more music festivals to be held in Belden.

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