Budget outlook remains bleak; Supervisors change minds on leash law
After a week of crunching numbers, Susan Scarlett, the county’s budget consultant, announced June 17 that the budget shortfall for the next fiscal year has been reduced from $3.3 million to just under $3 million.
“It would take every bit of fund balance and $1 million in reserves,” Scarlett said of what it would take to balance the budget. “We have a lot of work to do on this budget.”
That work will begin with Scarlett and Auditor Roberta Allen meeting with departments individually next month before the full board meets with them in August.
Off the leash
The supervisors voted unanimously to require pet owners to pick up their pet’s feces in county-maintained parks and campgrounds, but stopped short of requiring all animals to be on a leash in the same facilities.
Since their last meeting the supervisors learned that a leash law already exists in the county, requiring that a pet be on a leash or in the immediate presence of its owner.
Communities also have leash laws that require that a pet be under the control of its owner or on a leash, though the length of the leash is not specified.
The supervisors were poised to approve a law that would require an 8-foot leash on county grounds, but some had second thoughts.
Supervisor Lori Simpson talked about pet owners who use the park to play with their animals.
“I’ve been thinking about this too,” Chairman Jon Kennedy said. “I would be mad if I couldn’t take my Labs out and play Frisbee.”
Supervisor Kevin Goss said it would be unrealistic to expect animals to remain on a leash at campgrounds.
The supervisors learned that they can designate specific areas for leashes and did not have to pass an ordinance that affected all county parks and campgrounds. The leash requirement will be enforced on the courthouse grounds.
Who will pay?
Two former county supervisors, now representing the city of Portola, were in the boardroom June 17 because of the ongoing debate over who should pay LAFCo fees.
Portola City Manager Robert Meacher and Councilman Bill Powers encouraged the current sitting supervisors to send a letter to state Assemblyman Brian Dahle regarding the funding of LAFCo (the Local Agency Formation Commission) in rural areas.
According to state law, the fees are divided 50-50 between a county and its cities. Because Plumas County has only one city, some have said that it’s unfair for the city, with 10 percent of the population, to pay 50 percent of the fees.
Powers presented a letter to be signed jointly by city and county representatives, but the supervisors balked at some of the wording. They are also concerned about what could happen if the state Legislature becomes involved.
“What is there to do to make circumstances better?” Board chairman Jon Kennedy asked. “We probably all agree that it’s not fair for a city like Portola to pay half. We can also all agree that the services of LAFCo benefit the special districts.”
One option would be to divide the fees into thirds, with the county and city each paying a third, and the remainder being divided by some formula among the county’s special districts.
If the special districts were to participate in the fee, they would also receive two seats on the board. While the districts want that ability, they don’t want to pay.
“They want representation without taxation,” quipped board observer Larry Douglas.
Beef up security
Facilities Director Dony Sawchuk told the supervisors that the May management council meeting focused on security for the courthouse annex.
“There are seven outside entrances,” Sawchuk told the board in describing the difficulty in implementing a central security checkpoint as has been implemented in the courthouse.
Security improvements would be a combination of employee training and updated hardware.
Supervisor Lori Simpson suggested that the issue be put on the agenda for a future meeting’s discussion.
Building Official John Cunningham reported that his department’s building permit revenue exceeded anticipated revenues by more than $80,000 in the 2013-14 fiscal year. He attributed that to the permit fees associated with Sierra Pacific’s large-log mill, and applicants taking out permits in advance of fire sprinkler systems being required.
Requests for assistance rise
“This is the first quarter that the full effect of the Affordable Care Act has been felt,” Social Services Director Elliott Smart told the supervisors as he presented his quarterly report to the board. “There are application counts like we have never seen before.”
As people apply for Medi-Cal, as required by federal mandate, they are also becoming aware of their eligibility for other services such as CalFresh (formerly the food-stamp program).
The average monthly caseload for CalFresh last fiscal year was 749, up from 733 in 2012-13. The count reached a historic high of 900 at the end of March.
As for Medi-Cal, at the end of December 2013, there were 1,108 cases. By the end of March, the count rose to 1,435.
To comply with the Affordable Care Act, the supervisors passed ordinances that helped define what constitutes a full-time employee, and thus one who is eligible for health benefits. An employee who works 30 hours per week is eligible. Part-time and temporary employees who reach that threshold must also be offered benefits or the county, as an employer, could face penalties.
The supervisors also listened to two presentations: Public Health Director Mimi Hall and Health Education Coordinator Zach Revene discussed the results of a survey regarding health and local store offerings.
And Dan Martynn and Nils Lunder discussed their respective organizations, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Feather River Resource Conservation District.