City council reviews budget, grand jury findings and more

The Portola City Council held its regularly scheduled meeting June 26, with a full house in attendance and Mayor Pro Tem Phil Oels attending by telephone.

The meeting opened with public comment, and a group of long-time residents at the Portola Senior Apartments took turns speaking out about issues they had collectively been experiencing.

One resident stated that the maintenance man at the apartments had informed her on June 19 of the removal of exterior water spigots on the property. “I asked if that was legal,” the resident said. “The maintenance guy said, well that’s what we’re going to do.”

The concerned resident said she spoke to Chief Bob Frank at Eastern Plumas Rural Protection District, and that Frank said they could not be removed. “The next day we got this letter,” the resident went on, holding up a piece of paper.

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The letter stated that effective immediately, all watering hoses found outside the units would be removed by property management and disposed of.

Many residents objected to the restriction during fire season, as well as other issues arising around a pile of burnable materials near the senior apartments, and dead grass that raise concerns for residents in fire season. “You’re the last hope we’ve got,” said another resident to the council.

“There’s not a lot of exit to get out of the senior parking lot if a fire happens,” one stated. “I don’t want Portola to go up like Paradise did and not have any access to save it.” Residents requested that the item be put on the agenda for further discussion.

Mayor Pro Tem Oels interjected that he very much wanted to see the matter on the agenda, especially regarding the fire hazard aspect, saying “The hazard is spot on.”

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Citizen Larry Douglas spoke of the recent grand jury report, and posed the question, “We’re becoming fire wise, but are we becoming fire safe?” He also spoke of his hope that there will be progress with the new circumstances of the Portola 192 project.

2019-2020 operating budget and investment policy

The finance portion of the meeting began with public comment for the proposed 2019-2020 operating budget. With no public comment, the hearing closed, and City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett moved to the annual adoption of the city investment policy.

“As you know, it’s a very conservative policy,” Scarlett said to the council. “It’s the safest investment that we can have.” The resolution to file the policy was passed by roll call vote.

2019-2020 budget matters

Scarlett presented a number of resolutions, with the first being the annual appropriations limit. “We can’t collect more in taxes than our appropriation limit, which is $2.1 million dollars,” Scarlett noted. “We don’t really have to think about this, but it is required annually.” Council adopted the resolution unanimously and moved to Resolution 2398.

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Scarlett spoke about the budgetary process, which had begun in February, and told council that they had before them the 2019-2020 operating budget.

This included the latest addition of $22,000 in professional services budgeted toward drainage work on Ponderosa Drive in the city, as well as funds apportioned to work on the city owned part of 1st Avenue leading up to Eastern Plumas Healthcare.

With no additional changes or public comment, the vote was passed by roll call with four in favor and Council Member Stan Peiler abstaining due to a conflict in interest because of his employment with EPHC.

The next resolution, 2399, requested final approval of the monthly rates for water and wastewater for the 2019-2020 fiscal year and applied a 3.3 percent COLA increase to water rates.

Oels strongly objected to the rate increase, saying, “I’m still opposed to the COLA. I feel that people are paying as much as they can possibly pay already,” voting “adamantly no” on the resolution. The rates were approved with four in favor.

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Resolution 2400, adopting monthly rates for the solid waste administration fee, went in a different direction, with a proposed decrease of $1 in fees. One resident commented merely “Thank you!” during the public comment, after which the resolution passed unanimously.

The final resolution to be addressed, 2401, involved adopting administrative permit fees, application fees, and an annual agenda subscription fee for full agenda packets for council meetings.

City Clerk Melissa Klundby reminded council that the topic had been brought forward at a previous meeting, and explained that traditionally, there had not been any fees associated with administrative permits the city had been issuing.

“With our vacation rentals and outdoor vending fees, our interim city manager brought this forward,” Klundby said. She also noted the concerns raised by council members about potential fee waivers for 4-H animals and for RV parking permits.

Council members discussed the resolution, with Council Member Bill Powers noting that he would like to see it cleaned up a bit to address the two issues, directing staff to create policies around 4-H animals and RV parking. Four voted in favor of the resolution, with Oels voting no, and the resolution was adopted.

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Ponderosa drainage improvement

Public Works Director Todd Roberts opened the discussion with City Engineer Dan Bastian regarding the engineered Ponderosa Improvement Drainage Plan and associated budget amendment.

The proposed improvements would correct drainage issues on Ponderosa Drive, which have caused flooding issues that have been a problem for multiple years, according to homeowner Richard Johnson, whose home is affected by the matter.

The city would replace the existing roadside drainage culvert along Ponderosa Drive, with a tributary drainage area about 150 acres in size requiring two 24-inch diameter corrugated metal culverts to handle the flow.

“There has been an increase in flow to this area over the years, and we need to address the issue,” said Roberts, gesturing to a map hung on the wall.

Bastian spoke to council about the proposed structure and changes, all in the city right-of-way, and requested approval of the proposed project and the associated budget amendment of $12,000. After further discussion, the project was approved unanimously.

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City communications

Council member Bill Powers reported attending the recent Plumas County Transportation Commission meeting, where they approved the ongoing budget for the coming year, as well as projects including Plumas Transit, with administrative operations and senior transportation, at a total of $1,294,796.

Powers also noted that the FireWise meeting held June 20 was well attended, encouraging the public to continue to take an interest.

Powers noted that two items would be coming before the council soon — an evacuation map and a possible fuels reduction prescription on city property with the invitation to private property owners to join in on the fuel reduction.

Mayor Tom Cooley reported that he had attended a League of California Cities workshop on cannabis regulation, saying, “I think I learned some of the positive and negative experiences from other cities across the state, and have good contacts to pursue with questions we may have as we move forward on that with the ad-hoc committee.”

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Oels reported that he had attended the FireWise meeting, and noted that the group would be planning a community work day, with the proposed targets for fire safe clearing of West End Park and around the Veteran’s Memorial Hall. “We’re looking for someone to contribute refreshments,” Oels said. “Mostly, we’re looking for volunteers.”

EPRFPD report

Captain Elaine Frank of Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District (EPRFPD) reported in the absence of Chief Bob Frank, with 16 medical calls and one burn pile call thus far in June. “We’d like to start to make a presence in the park,” Frank stated.

Frank also commented that she was glad to hear that there was movement in the arena of FireWise involvement, and said, “I can’t stress enough how important it is for the community to be involved in your FireWise. No one else can do it for you, you have to be able to do it yourself. If you’re a property owner, you need to be involved. It takes time, and it takes involvement. I believe the city is very well fire protected at this moment, as well as EMS.”

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Five more engineers are now state certified to legally drive response vehicles, and Frank stated that the department constantly strives to do more to care for the community.

Council then approved the consent calendar, with the amendment of the removal of the response to the Grand Jury letter ratification from the calendar for discussion at Larry Douglas’ request. The consent calendar was adopted unanimously.

Grand jury findings

Council took a moment to discuss the response from the city of Portola to the findings and recommendations in the 2018 Plumas County Civil Grand Jury Portola Fire Protection and Emergency Medical Services report.

The letter acknowledged that the city received and reviewed the findings of the grand jury.

These findings include three items pertaining to the Portola Volunteer Fire Department (PVFD); first, that to re-establish the department would be a very difficult task; second, that city officials interviewed are satisfied with the fire and EMS coverage that is currently being provided by EPRFPD; and finally, that the financial cost to the city to re-establish and operate PVFD with a paid fire chief is not cost effective for the city.

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The letter went on to state that the city intends to negotiate with EPRF for a joint powers agreement for mutual fire and EMS coverage, to take effect when the current contract ends June 30, 2020.

With some further discussion, council went on to ratify the letter and move to the final item on the agenda, climate change, which is discussed in a separate article.

The City Council holds regular meetings on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. Interest and participation is encouraged and welcome. For more information, call 832-6803 or visit cityofportola.com.