Supervisors stuck between a rock and a hard place

The first matter to be discussed at the April 18 board of supervisors’ meeting set the stage for the rest of the meeting. Jim Green, director of the Plumas County Building Department, asked the board to earmark $25,000 from the general fund to pay for enforcement of county codes affecting non-functioning vehicles and buildings in disrepair.

As in the previous board meeting, a majority of the board voted against the measure because it involved using money from the general fund.

At this point, Lori Simpson, board chair, gave a spirited attack on the idea that the board shouldn’t be spending money from the general fund because the budget process for the next fiscal year was about to begin.

At the board’s April 11 meeting, the board voted against hiring a second attorney for the county counsel’s office because it was prior to the budget being discussed.

But apparently, Simpson’s argument had some merit, because the board later voted to spend money from the general fund.

Hiring county attorneys

The county counsel’s office and human resources department’s request to increase the salary of deputy county counsel attorneys, and to add a job classification for “assistant county counsel,” was rejected at the last meeting April 11.

The purpose of the measure was to attract additional, and hopefully, more experienced candidates for the single opening in the county counsel’s office.

After another spirited argument by Simpson, this same measure was adopted at the April 18 meeting.

After a presentation by Plumas County District Attorney David Hollister on why his office needed an additional experienced attorney to try felony cases, the board voted to increase the rate of pay for assistant district attorneys.

Fiscal warning

Plumas County Auditor Roberta Allen cautioned the board that California Public Employees’ Retirement System rates are going up. There is a $2 million bill from CalPERS due July 1. She hopes to pay the full amount right away in order to save the county $200,000.

Allen also pointed out that the county will be sitting with flood damage costs, estimated at $3 million for January and February, until it is reimbursed from the federal government, the county’s insurance providers and the state government.

What to do about the planning commission?

The five-person planning commission has not been able to meet recently because it has two vacancies and because one of the three sitting commissioners, Bob Abbott, is out of the county for two months.

Many of the supervisors described the dysfunctional nature of the commission. They spoke of lack of coordination, personal agendas taking over commission meetings and friction between the commission and the planning department.

They also mentioned the failure of the planning commission to address the cannabis issue, such that a working group had to be organized and supervised by the board of supervisors to deal with the matter.

The questions concerned the role of the commission, whether the board needed the commission and whether the board of supervisors should eliminate or suspend the commission until the point when it is needed again.

County Counsel Craig Settlemire told the board that the county is not required by state law to have a planning commission.

It was also pointed out that many of the functions of commissions can be done by the board or the planning department.

Settlemire cautioned, however, that the county would have to repeal or change the county ordinance that created the commission, depending on the board’s decision.

Supervisor Michael Sanchez cautioned against suspending the commission when it is dysfunctional and then expecting the commission to be functional when it is needed again in the future.

If the county needs to have the commission, and he looked to the planning department to help decide that issue, Sanchez said the board should add new commissioners and “fix” the commission.

The only planning commissioner present at the board meeting, John Olofson, lectured the board about the need for a county recreation plan to restart economic development in the county.

John Olofson, member of the Plumas County Planning Commission, speaks to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors on April 18. Photo by Steve Wathen

Olofson’s talk went on for many minutes until Settlemire and Simpson told Olofson that he was not keeping to the question on the agenda, the role of the planning commission.

Olofson responded, “I’m on topic. The role of the planning commission, you’ll see in a minute, is to create jobs.”

Supervisor Sherrie Thrall and others noted that the commission’s authority does not involve consideration of individual zoning change requests.

In the end, the board decided to consider the fate of the commission in two months when Abbott returns to the county.

Simpson cautioned Olofson and the commission, “I just wanted to remind the commissioners, you serve at the pleasure of the board and you can be removed at the pleasure of the board.”

The planning commission was originally organized in March 2005 to update the county’s general plan.

County safety communications

Bob Perreault, director of Plumas County Public Works Department, reported to the board on the progress to date of the “County Safety Communications Advisory Committee.”

Perreault said the committee believes the county needs a “communications master plan” that includes all possible tower sites in the county, identifies the county’s communication needs for the foreseeable future and takes into account the degree of signal interference between towers.

The committee also believes the county needs a consultant  to advise it on technical issues. For instance, two companies have proposals for new towers on Radio Hill (Cemetery Hill) and the county will need to know how those towers might interfere with existing communications.

The advisory committee has been meeting for almost a year.

Road plowing

Public works reported last meeting that it is prohibitively expensive to plow roads in the county that will clear on their own in a few weeks. Joe Blackwell was reported as saying that the county won’t be doing any plowing until the end of April at the earliest.

New building inspector

The board authorized the purchase of a vehicle for the use of a second building inspector that is being hired. The current building inspector can only get to parts of the county two days a week. This inconveniences builders and other permittees.

Arguments made against voting down all expenditures to the general fund at the beginning of the budget process:

The budget process for the following fiscal year is not over until Sept. 30. The county can’t wait until the end of September to make critical decisions.

The board was in the same situation last year at the end of the 2015-2016 fiscal year and upgraded the salaries of staff in the sheriff’s office as part of reorganization. These salaries came from the general fund.

This is a civil liability issue for the county. The county counsel needs to continue to provide counsel to the county on a daily basis and the district attorney needs to try cases and seek justice on a daily basis. A lack of due diligence could have negative repercussions for the county.

Lack of a third attorney with the experience to try felony cases is overworking the district attorney’s office and giving defense attorneys an advantage in court.

Lack of funding slows down the functioning of government and the services they provide to the public.

Jim Green pointed out that not having funds earmarked for enforcement of code violations will shut down code enforcement of unused vehicles and buildings in disrepair.

Lack of a second attorney in the county counsel’s office is overworking Craig Settlemire and slowing the functioning of government in other departments.

The county shouldn’t discriminate as to what gets funded based on the time of the year and where the funds come from.

This crunch has happened in years past and the board has been able to rectify the budget ramifications in the next budget.

Supervisor Michael Sanchez pointed out that he has looked into the county’s books following the April 11 vote and now felt reassured that the county had the means to cover expenditures from the general fund.