County administer draws fire in effort to save taxpayers’ money

The Mohawk Community Resource Center is not closing its doors.

Residents in the Mohawk Valley, Graeagle, Blairsden and the general area are not losing their community venue and services at this time.

A discussion on services, costs and who is paying and why will be part of the 2020-21 fiscal budget discussions, said Plumas County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick Dec. 3.

In letters dated Nov. 25 from Plumas County Facilities Services Director Kevin Correira to Plumas Rural Services and Graeagle Land and Water, a 30-day notice was given that the county was ending its lease.

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In that letter Correira explained that the county’s last day of occupancy of Building No. 36, Space 4 at the corner of Highways 70 and 89 would end Dec. 31.

“I’m shocked and very upset to hear the center will no longer be supported by the county,” said Diane Forsberg of Cromberg and a services recipient of the center, in a letter to Hydrick after she received the initial news. Later she indicated that she was pleased that the closure was being postponed or cancelled.

Mark Cowan, a member of the MCRC advisory board, said that he was very surprised by the initial letter announcing the end of the lease. “This is a tremendous blow to our community,” he said.

The commercial lease costs Plumas County $22,000 a year plus liability costs.

PRS offers the majority of programs at the center, and Graeagle Land and Water owns the facility.

Correira was by no means alone in the decision-making and in sending the letterAccording to Hydrick, Correira and Plumas County Public Health Agency Director Andrew Woodruff assisted him in researching the programs and in the decision-making process.

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The cost of offering services at that facility is just one area Hydrick noted when working on this year’s fiscal budget.

“I’m shocked and very upset to hear the center will no longer be supported by the county.”
– Diane Forsberg Cromberg resident and center participant in a letter to county administrator

During the Sept. 17 final budget discussions Hydrick told supervisors that he saw a number of areas where cuts could be made. Although he wasn’t prepared to propose those cuts for the current fiscal budget, he told supervisors that he would to continue to study agreements.

During that September budget meeting, Supervisor Sherrie Thrall explained that at the current rate of spending Plumas County would be broke in three years.

Hydrick’s decision to hold off on canceling the lease agreement came following a phone call from District 5 Supervisor Jeff Engel. Engel was hearing complaints, Hydrick explained.

“I now understand the value of the center to the residents,” Hydrick said following his conversation with Engel and hearing more from residents who use the center.

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A letter from Correira went out Dec. 5 rescinding the earlier decision to terminate the lease.

Hydrick did say he was surprised with Engel’s reaction to his move in attempting to save the county money. Engel is traditionally the “no” vote when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars. Engel was also the lone dissenting vote this year on the fiscal year’s budget. Last year he went as far as to walk out of a budget discussion.

“I now understand the value of the center to the residents.”
– Gabriel Hydrick

Hydrick’s letter to Engel

In a letter to Engel, dated Dec. 3, Hydrick explained the rationale behind terminating the lease.

Hydrick explained that the Mohawk Community Resource Center is just one area where Plumas County could benefit financially in its quest to cut spending. “This includes where the county is over spending, or is not realizing cost sharing and revenue opportunities to their fullest potentials,” he stated.

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“I take my obligation and responsibility seriously to be wise stewards of the taxpayers’ money and inject a little more business sense in government operations,” Hydrick added in his explanation to Engel.

Besides the cost of the lease, the county is also including the facility and its services in its liability coverage. It “is exposed to liabilities for activities that are and are not related to county services at the facility,” Hydrick pointed out.

Plumas County, through the public health agency’s senior nutrition program, does offer a senior lunch program each Wednesday at the center.

Meals are prepared at the senior site in Portola, according to Zach Revene, assistant director of public health, responding for Woodruff who was out of the office.

Revene said that Public Health never planned to stop serving meals to seniors at the center. “These meals are picked up by volunteers from Graeagle that drive in to Portola,” he said. The food is carried by safe food handling temperatures in insulated containers and immediately served.

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Unlike senior lunches offered by Public Health’s senior nutrition’s programs in Greenville, Chester, Portola and Quincy in county-owned facilities, the Mohawk lunch is offered only one day a week and is staffed by volunteers. Other facilities offer lunches every weekday.

“With my intent to realize significant cost savings and remove the county from unreasonable and unrelated liability, I acted prematurely not knowing the political value of the facility,” Hydrick told Engel in the letter. “For this, I apologize.”

Alternative plans

Hydrick said in the original planning, it was evident that there are options available to the community.

The current service provider (PRS) could continue with the lease. “If the service provider, who is the main tenant, takes over the lease in the county’s absence, the public health department anticipates being able to maintain the service exactly as it is now, just without the lease holding liability on the county,” Hydrick explained.

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Paula Johnston, PRS operations officer, said Dec. 3 that PRS doesn’t have the funds to lease the facility.

PRS does charge $25 an hour for the facility use (except to Plumas County) and those funds go into the center’s operating expense. “As of Nov. 30, 2019, it’s about $1,400. It’s a small portion of the revenue,” Johnston explained.

“The fact that the county subsidizes a lease on behalf of another entity, business, non-profit or otherwise, naturally presents additional complications,” Hydrick explained to Engel.

Hydrick said that seniors could go to Portola where senior lunches are served five days a week.

Or another facility could be located in the area where programs could be offered, Hydrick said as the third alternative.

Advisory board meeting

This is a political issue, former Plumas County Supervisor Don Clark told an audience of approximately 60 residents at a regular Mohawk Community Resource Center board meeting Wednesday, Dec. 4. This information is made available by Cowan who took minutes at that meeting.

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“The fact that the county subsidizes a lease on behalf of another entity, business, non-profit or otherwise, naturally presents additional complications.”
– County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick explained in a letter to Supervisor Jeff Engel.

Clark, who created the center in 2004 while a member of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors, and District 5 Supervisor Jeff Engel were invited to share their thoughts at the meeting, according to Mark Cowan, a member of the advisory board.

This turnout is an example of the political will to fight and keep this center open, Clark told the audience.

It was that spirit that came to Clark’s attention in about 2004 and led to the establishment of the center, Cowan explained.

At that time, the county could not afford to build its own center and agreed to lease space in Graeagle Land and Water’s new facility.

With services, including senior lunches, available to the public five days a week at county facilities in Chester, Greenville, Quincy and Portola, residents in the area wanted similar opportunities.

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We must understand that it’s unusual for the county to lease space for something like this, Clark said referencing the situation as seen by Plumas County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick in a letter of explanation to Engel Dec. 3.

And we’ll always have someone in the county looking at the budget and wondering why we are paying for this facility, Clark said according to Cowan’s minutes.

Clark came to the meeting not just armed with words and sentiments, but details on how much the residents of Blairsden, Graeagle, Clio, Whitehawk and the entire Mohawk Valley provide to Plumas County revenues in the way of property taxes.

However, the most recent information Clark provided to the group was from the 2006-07 fiscal year. At that time the contribution was from the county parks budget ($21,720 in 2006-2007), according to the information from Clark. County facilities were approved totaling $106,321 for the same period for the other districts.

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“Additionally, through mental health, social services, public health and alcohol and drug, the county budgeted $92,560 in rents/leases throughout the county in 2006/2007,” according to Clark’s information.

Plumas County Tax Collector Julie White was asked for a ballpark figure on how much these residents contribute in the way of annual property taxes. White was short-handed and apologized that she couldn’t supply the information on short notice.

Clark added that residents in the target area use little of the resources provided by the county to other areas.

Examples he cited include county support for town and memorial halls, county parks, Sheriff’s stations, libraries, hospital – none of which exist in this immediate area, according to Cowan’s minutes.

Engel was also invited to speak. He agreed that the area provides significant revenue to the county but uses very little of the county funds.

Engel pointed out that the center is considered maintenance free in terms of other support or management. The county doesn’t have to pay for the facility’s upkeep or repairs, snow plowing or other concerns it has with county-owned buildings.

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Engel said that the county administrator and other directors involved in the initial decision didn’t understand just how many programs are offered at the community center.

Engel went on to say that the county administrator acted on his own without first discussing the process with PRS or the building’s owner. Engel said that he therefore reversed Hydrick’s decision. Engel added the situation is “squelched for now.”

Responding to concerns that the center could close mid-year 2020 (following the budget process), Engel explained that such things were part of the annual budget battle.

He reminded residents that although he supports the center there are other supervisors on the board.

Engel recommended that residents remain visible and attend Board of Supervisors’ meetings in order to keep the center and its importance at the forefront of the decision making process.

Services at MCRC

Plumas Rural Services Operations Officer Paula Johnston provided a list of services offered at the Mohawk Community Resource Center.

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Some programs are free to participants, some request a donation. PRS requests a donation from instructors, who use the center, Johnston explained,

Services include a book and DVD lending library that’s free, access to free computer and WIFI services, and photocopies and printing services with a donation requested.

There is meeting space booked at $25 an hour except for Plumas County needs.

Sisters in Recovery is free, Tai Chi, Italian, Qi Gong, Flex and Stretch, and Pilates all request payments to the instructor by participants.

A Caregiver’s Support Group, and a Grief Support Group scheduled to begin soon are both free. Line dancing lessons recommend a donation by participants.

Card playing and socializing are free.

CPR/AED classes request a payment to the instructor.

“The center serves as a showcase for local artists and artisans to display and sell their work,” Johnston said. “In the past we held a monthly Speaker’s Bureau (donation request) where various people presented on topics of interest to the community.”

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Other events include MCRC Holiday Faire, Spaghetti Feed

Cinco de Mayo Celebration,

Chili Cookoff, Open House and Services Silent Auction and Annual Sponsorship Drive.

MCRC senior lunches

Plumas County Health Care Agency Assistant Director Zach Revene provided information on the Mohawk Community Resource Center senior lunch program.

“It’s difficult to break out how much the Mohawk program costs specifically since this is blended in with the Portola budget (senor nutrition) where the meals are prepared,” Revene said.

“A ballpark estimate could be based on the fact that we suggest a donation of $2.50 per meal,” he said about contributions from program participants. “We cannot and do not require this as payment, but it does help recoup costs when someone decides to donate this amount.”

Revene added, “The MCRC site has historically been very good at paying the suggested donation, which also helps sustain the program.”

Senior nutrition and transportation are supported by the county’s General Fund contributions, according to Revene.

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PASSAGES — Area Agency on Aging representatives for this region, and the Plumas County Transportation Commission also sustain services. And Revene said they anticipate that those services will continue into the future.

Looking at the number of participants and financial contributions by month are available for the 2018-19 fiscal year. July 2018 had a total of 44 participants with $109 in contributions; August, 70 with $174; September, 48 with $108.25; October, 61 with $11; November, 44 with $154; and December, 49 with $108.50.

In January 2019, the MCRC center saw 47 participants at senior lunches and $120 was donated. February, 33 with $58.75; March, 44 with $78.75; April, 56 with $122.50; May, 50 with $84.50; and June, 39 participants with $73.75 brought in.

Revene also supplied the following details for senior lunches in other areas for a comparison, although these programs were not broken down by month.

Chester (Wildwood Manor site): 10,364 congregate plus 4,366 home delivered for a total of $30,665.95.

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Greenville (home delivered only): 8,910 at $4,881.50.

Quincy (Veteran’s Hall site): 5,432 congregate plus 6,495 home delivered for a total of $16,413.50.

Portola (Memorial Hall site): 5,422 congregate plus 5,574 home delivered for a total of $13,691.75.