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County business goes on amid pandemic

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

While resources and attention are devoted to the coronavirus pandemic, life goes on, including running the day-to-day operations of the county.

During the May 19 Plumas County Board of Supervisors meeting, county leaders received the annual audit report, approved revised job descriptions and compensation for the clerk-recorder’s office, and moved closer to allowing social events on agricultural land.

Audit report and the 2020-2021budget

Norm Newell, of the firm Smith & Newell CPAs, joined county Auditor Roberta Allen in presenting the audit information to the supervisors. Overall, the county received a “clean, unmodified position.”

Newell pointed out a few items of significance in the 156-page audit report, noting that the county’s $51 million pension liability is up 4 percent over the previous year, and its $14 million fund balance is down 6 percent.

During an interview following the meeting, County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick said the audit process is a valuable tool to track trends. He said that the county has long been aware of its pension liability, but now that it’s required to be part of the annual audit, “it’s helpful for public disclosure.”

As for the dwindling fund balance, Hydrick said that the county has been relying on the fund to balance the budget for the past few years, but as that money is drawn down, the county would need to modify its budget.

Traditionally now is the time of year when the county gets serious about a budget, but this year the coronavirus pandemic, as well as significant accounting software issues, are making the process more difficult.

“I have been talking with the auditor (Roberta Allen) and we are looking at rolling this budget over,” Hydrick said of using the 2019-2020 budget as a base for 2020-2021.

The pandemic is expected to impact the county’s revenues with reduced sales and transient occupancy taxes, but Hydrick doesn’t know yet to what extent. “I want to do this in a measured approach,” he said of the possibility of working with a reduced budget.

Hydrick said that he asked department heads about six weeks ago to provide a list of cost-saving measures, and he divided those responses into three categories: those that wouldn’t impact employees and public service; those that would moderately impact both; and those that would severely impact employees and the public.

“I want to exhaust every option we can before we impact employees,” Hydrick said.

While revenues are expected to be impacted somewhat this budget year, Hydrick fears the impact could be felt more severely felt next year. Sales tax contributes roughly $3.1 million to the general fund, while the transient occupancy tax represents $1.5 million to the county. The state is projecting a drop of 10 to 27 percent in sales tax revenues as a result of the pandemic business shutdowns.

Good news for the clerk’s office

It took three tries and seven years, but Clerk-Recorder Kathy Williams succeeded in receiving new job classifications for her staff and an increase in wages.

“This is good for us,” Williams said following the meeting, noting that some staff had been receiving minimum wage, causing a lot of turnover. She explained that people would take a job and then move on to other county positions that paid more as soon as they became an option.

Historically, the clerk-recorder, assessor, auditor and treasurer-tax collector staff (all general fund departments) are handled at the same time, but the clerk-recorder staff was the last to be completed.

Human Resources Director Nancy Selvage presented the reclassifications to the supervisors. “I recommend this reorganization,” Selvage told the board and added, “I understand it’s not a convenient time (amid coronavirus).”

She provided the revised job descriptions and rates of pay, which amount to $75,000 more annually.

Board chairman Kevin Goss said, “I’ve noticed this for awhile now … it’s a recycling box downstairs. It’s not the ideal time for this for sure, but it needs to happen.”

Supervisor Lori Simpson agreed. “It’s never an ideal time to reclassify,” she said, but adding that the wages need to be changed.

Examples of some of the pay increases include: Elections Services Assistant 1 and Deputy Clerk Recorder 1 going from $13.16 to $15; Elections Coordinator from $17.56 to $23.96; and Lead Deputy Clerk Recorder from $15.26 to $20.61.

The reclassification was approved on a 3-1 vote with Supervisor Jeff Engel voting “no,” and Supervisor Sherrie Thrall joining Goss and Simpson in voting “yes.”

Social events on ag land

The supervisors approved a trio of items moving the county one step closer to allowing social events on agriculture land. All votes were split 3-1, with Supervisors Jeff Engel, Kevin Goss and Lori Simpson voting “yes” and Supervisor Sherrie Thrall voting “no.”

Under the new guidelines ag properties would be allowed to hold up to 19 social events per calendar year — such as weddings, family reunions, etc. Those land owners that want to hold more events would have to obtain a special use permit.

Thrall voted against the measures, fearing that social events were not in keeping with the spirit of agricultural lands, particularly those in the Williamson Act.

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