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Differences of opinion, frayed nerves emerge in April 4 board of supervisors meeting

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

 

How could one describe the tone of the April 4 meeting of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors? “Tuesday’s meeting was probably one of the most contentious,” said Supervisor Greg Hagwood. “There are some very significant issues that are colliding; some are related to each other, but some are distinct.”

The signs of frustration began when Dispatch Supervisor Becky Grant detailed issues with the human resources department; continued when the Feather River Tourism Association challenged the timeliness of the tax collector’s office in distributing funds; continued with a discussion of employees working four 10-hour shifts, which drew a rare rebuke from the board chairman; and also showed during discussion of a delayed audit report which will put on hold all federal funds to county departments until it’s filed.

The supervisors worked their way through a packed agenda that included authorizing vacant positions to be filled, vehicles to be purchased, and grants to be sought. Many of those items were perfunctory, while others such as a contribution to a new group whose purpose is to lobby for counties with large tracts of federal lands — required more discussion, and ended in a split vote.

Sheriff’s Office comments

Becky Grant spoke during public comment and reiterated the staffing challenges faced by the sheriff’s office as a whole and the dispatch center in particular. “Who is going to answer 911?” she asked the board. The full text of Grant’s remarks have already been printed on Plumas News and can be read here.

Sheriff Todd Johns spoke during the department head opportunity and addressed ongoing issues with the department. “I received another resignation yesterday,” he said. “She’s leaving to go to a job that makes $6 more per hour than she makes as a correctional sergeant with 12 years of experience.” Todd said the employee is receiving the increased compensation for a position that she has no prior experience doing, and she will be working regular shifts. The loss of this sergeant leaves just two sergeants to cover the jail. “If this continues, there will be shifts this summer where I will not have a patrol deputy patrolling this county,” Johns said. He said he is trying to make changes within the department to ease the stress on employees, but as of now the “stressors are through the roof.”

Fiscal year audit delay

Last year the annual audit wrapped up in November; this year it appears it will be completed by June 30, so that is an improvement, but the audit is due to the state March 31.

Auditor Martee Graham and consultant Craig Goodwin said there were various reasons why the audit has been delayed — including lack of staff and other job responsibilities — and Graham invited the supervisors to visit her office to view the situation.

Once, the audit is complete, it is handed off to the state controller’s office, and the county will need to make sure that the state sends a required letter so that federal funds can be released to the county. “I would encourage the departments that are impacted, to contact the federal agencies directly,” he said.

“That’s what we had to do last November when the audit was finally complete,” Graham said.

Supervisor Greg Hagwood asked if the delayed audit would impact employees being paid, and he was assured that they would still be paid.

After further discussion, Board chairman Ceresola said, “Let’s move on.”

FRTA wants answers

Susan Bryner, the treasurer for the Feather River Tourism Association, presented the board with its annual report and then turned the discussion to concerns with the tax collector’s office.

She described the effort that began in 2014 to create a tourism district to achieve a stable source of funding to promote tourism for Plumas. When Eastern Plumas elected not to participate, the association moved forward representing Almanor, Indian Valley and Quincy. Bryner described the efforts to raise private funding and noted that the “outdated software in the treasurer’s office couldn’t help us.”  She said that when the “tax collector couldn’t account for our funds by region,” the association offered to do it themselves, but were told by the board to wait for the software update. (The software update involving the county’s financial offices has been discussed weekly at the board.) “In October of 2020 we received approval by 63 percent of our lodging providers and approved by a four-fifths vote,” Bryner said. “We became known statewide as the little district that could and received a state reward.”

She said that once again the tourism association asked for support and were denied so they relied on private loans and volunteer time to fund the operation. She said the association is now into its third year and “never have collected money from the treasurer’s office on time.”

Bryner also discussed Air BnB’s failure to pay the 2 percent tourism association assessment for the past two years, as well the tax collector not collecting from those who should be paying the base TOT (transient occupancy tax).

Bryner asked the county for a bridge loan. “You might feel it sets a dangerous precedent,” she said … “but we shouldn’t be penalized for the inefficiency of the treasurer’s office.”

Treasurer Julie White responded and said the only funds that have not been distributed are from January to March 2023 and they aren’t due until the end of April. White described the effort she has put into the situation and hoped that in the future they would be more timely. Bryner said there seemed to be a discrepancy as to what they have been told in the past and at this meeting.

It was decided that more discussion could be held on the situation outside of the boardroom and County Administrative Officer Debra Lucero summed up by saying that she “appreciated the report; it’s very thorough.” She added that the relationship “shouldn’t be adversarial. Your success is our success.”

Working four 10s

When Agriculture Commissioner Willo Vieira asked the board to allow her weights and measure inspector to work four 10-hour shifts — a practice that had been in place since 1997 — the board approved the request unanimously without discussion.

However, when just a few minutes later, Building Department Director Chuck White asked for his chief code enforcement officer to work four 10-hour days from April until October, it resulted in a discussion about the process.

“How do we keep track of these?” asked CAO Lucero. “We keep getting requests. We need to think these through.”

While White sought to discuss why it was necessary for this position, Lucero was more concerned about the process in general and discussed “the piecemeal approach” now in place and how it impacts departments such as human resources and the auditor’s office in tracking them. She said that she has been working on a process to take to management council. “I have no argument with someone working 4 10s,” she said…  “trying to come up with a standardized way. Not trying to pick on you; trying to get the process right.”

Then it turned into a discussion of whether the altered schedule was assigned to the position or the person. White thought it best with the position; Lucero said it should be with the individual. “Having it with the position is much less work than having it with the person,” White said. “If you want to talk about efficiency in government then it doesn’t make sense to come back here every single time.”

Public Works Director John Mannle said that the road department has been working on four 10s for decades. “Doing it by the name would cause a lot of pain,” he said.

Lucero said that the road department and sheriff have their own payroll systems and would not be affected.

Chandler Peay, who was in the audience said it didn’t seem to be fair to be drawing an arbitrary line right in the middle of your meeting. He added an aside, and Chairman Ceresola told him to treat the CAO with respect. Peay said he meant no disrespect.

Seeking to stave off further discussion, Supervisor Kevin Goss said, “Let’s get this off our plate and fix this down the road.” The board voted to approve White’s request.

Quincy Fire withdraws $2.3 million

Treasurer Julie White said the Quincy Fire Protection District wants to have more control of its revenue (which is collected by her office via the property tax bills) and sought to withdraw $2.3 million. White said that the district has its own payroll and accounting services to handle the funds, and the auditor signed off on the request.

Supervisor Tom McGowan asked if the move would help reduce the workload in the treasurer’s office, and White responded that it would. The board voted unanimously to approve the request.

How much will the donation be?

For the third time, the board took up the issue of supporting the National Center for Public Lands Counties —a new entity put forward by the National Association of Counties. This group would lobby on behalf of approximately 500 counties with large amounts of federal lands in their boundaries. The California State Association of Counties suggested that each county give 1 percent of its Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund, which for Plumas would be $75,000.

In past discussions, the board agreed that amount was too much, and CAO Lucero suggested a $20,000 contribution. “I think it’s important to support this in some way,” she said.

Supervisor Greg Hagwood suggested paying “$5,000 now; $15,000 later if we see results.”

“This isn’t an ongoing thing,” Lucero said and stressed the importance of the group. “If you get 500 counties supporting one particular issue, they listen,” she said of members of Congress.

Supervisor Tom McGowan said, “I don’t like getting something for nothing. We should contribute something. Is it zero? No. Is it $75,000? Absolutely not.”

“The recommendation is $20,000,” Supervisor Hagwood said and agreed that it didn’t feel right to get something for nothing. “Seems reasonable that we make some contribution,” he said. “We have an obligation to make a small contribution.”

Supervisor McGowan suggested the board contribute $7,500 and CAO Lucero reminded the board that the National Association of Counties are  “the ones who got us ARPA funds and Covid funds. They are very effective.”

The supervisors voted 4 to 1 to approve the contribution, with Supervisor Jeff Engel voting no.

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Board of Supervisors is Tuesday, April 11 at 10 a.m. The meetings are open to the public and held on the third floor of the county courthouse or can be viewed live from the county’s website.

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