By Debra Moore
Plumas County Supervisor Jeff Engel and his challenger, Realtor Mimi Garner, were on familiar ground as they took their places at the Plumas County League of Women Voters forum held May 4 at the Graeagle Firehall. Both have lived and worked in the area for decades.
About 70 people were present to hear the two-term incumbent and his challenger answer questions pertaining to the role of supervisor in general and District 5 specifically. This was the second of three forums that they were scheduled to participate in — the first was in Quincy and the final forum May 5 in Portola.
In his introduction, Engel discussed his 40 years in business in the area and said, “The only reason I ran for this position was to give back to the county for all they have given me.”
For her part Mimi Garner touted her success with the Nakoma development, a project she described as “integral to the community.” She wants to become supervisor to spearhead an effort to bring tourism and recreation opportunities to the county.
League representative Linda Judge asked the candidates questions, based on those supplied by the audience. The other contested races highlighted May 4 will be covered in separate articles.
What is the scope of responsibilities of a Plumas County supervisor and why are you the best candidate for the position?
Engel described the scope as “never ending” and listed several projects he has been involved in including the completion of a water project down the Canyon in Tobin, where he personally worked on the system. “It’s not just meetings and social gatherings; it’s solving problems,” he said, comparing it to his own business.
Garner said she was sure the position would be interesting and emphasized that she is “good at working one-on-one with people.” She said one of the biggest issues in the county is employment and giving salaries that are compensatory to the job descriptions. “Then these people need to be relocated and I can do that as well,” she said of her role as a Realtor.
Plumas County is facing a crisis – what would you do to recruit, hire and retain employees?
Garner said she discovered recently it was a big issue. She said it would be important to reach out to find key people for each department and then in turn, they could find the employees for their departments. She said that working with the county’s HR (human resources department) would provide a twist.
Engel said that the problem isn’t unique to Plumas. “Even the city of San Francisco is losing hundreds of officers because of this stupid COVID mandate,” he said. He went on to say that Plumas County isn’t rich. “We have a budget and we can only do so much. You can’t pay more than you make.”
Garner then added that “It’s obvious we need to go out of the area,” and the county needs to look at the pay structure. “We need to figure out where that money is going to come from,” she said and then added, “Plumas County is nothing like California.”
Engel was asked to respond to a recent statement by District Attorney David Hollister when he said, “We can’t be the county of ‘no.’” (Engel has a history of voting no when it comes to agenda items, particularly fiscal ones.)
“That’s really easy for Mr. Hollister to say,” Engel said. “If he would like to come up with some magical way to add to the coffers of the county…” Engel then went on to pledge that he would never raise taxes for Plumas residents.
Garner focused on increasing the money that comes into the county. “There are several projects that need to get off the ground so we can bring in property tax,” she said and then cited the Feather River Inn near Graeagle as an example. She advocated seeing what other projects have been stranded and could be revived.
Both candidates were asked about the transient occupancy tax TOT and its revenue generating capabilities.
Engel said that TOT fluctuates and “a lot of things affect that including fires.” He said he recently met with county officials to discuss how to capture more TOT from VRBOS and estimated that it’s “in the ballpark of $200,000 that could be added to the TOT.”
Garner said that about 80 percent of the residences in her neighborhood are short-term rentals. “Some of those people are not paying their TOT,” she said. She is hopeful that once they sign up with VRBO or Airbnb, the TOT could be automatically collected and paid. She also brought up the Feather River Inn and its potential for TOT and employment.
Engel rebutted that comment and said, “I can’t go tell the Feather River Inn to open and hire 30 people.” But he said he has been working with Caltrans and its new highway project to build an approach to the Feather River Inn, which would save the entity a considerable amount of money if it reopened.
In a question directed to Garner, she was asked “Why was bankruptcy filed on the Nakoma property?”
Garner referenced her ill husband, buying the business from him, a burst pipe that flooded the bottom floor, and the ultimate decision to sell the property.
This question was directed to Engel. As a public representative for the past 7.5 years, what means have you used to communicate with the public – newsletter? Town halls?
Engel said, “I talk to people every day. You elected me to do the job for you.” He told the audience that they can call him at any time. “I get calls at 6 in the morning, 12 midnight, I don’t care.”
Garner said that she would use email and post a quarterly newsletter. As an example, she said, “For this meeting I put out 900 emails yesterday to get people to attend.”
How will you handle working with the small county budget? This was a question directed to Garner.
Garner said $110 million is a lot of money; that’s a big budget. She said she got a list from the assessor to see what’s being collected. “We are paying 25 percent of the property tax,” Garner said of the District 5 area. “Almanor pays 66 percent.”
Engel was asked: Should you have gone to the barber? (in a reference to when he had his hair cut when businesses were supposed to close at the onset of COVID) What about political signs?
“I’m a small businessman,” Engel said. “Closing business, closing schools was the biggest fiasco I have seen in my life.” He complained that the state is one of the highest for taxing businesses. “I got a haircut because I stand behind small business,” he said, adding he would go to jail over it. He said his signs were within regulation.
Garner said, “I think we are all in compliance, otherwise we would all be turning each other in.”
We have heard suggestions that there is low morale in the sheriff’s dept. What are you plans to work with the sheriff to improve morale?
Garner said she “looked forward to finding out what the problems are” and working together.
Engel said, “I personally have no knowledge of unhappy people in the sheriff’s office.” He said that he thinks that with the pandemic and the forest fires “the sheriff has done a stand-up job.” He added that the supervisors have no say over elected department heads “other than we control their budgets.”
What will you do to provide free green waste dumping to promote fire safety maintenance?
Engel said that Graeagle does a great job of accepting green waste and there is a program in Chester, but he doesn’t want to start a county program. “If the county starts another program, we have to pay for it. Nothing’s free,” he said. He said such a project would require a couple hundred thousand dollar machine and people. “Some things we can’t take care of,” he said.
Garner said, “I don’t have much to say about pine needles, but we do need to stay fire safe.”
Ballots for District 5 and the other races in Plumas County will be mailed May 9 to registered voters. Election Day is June 7, but ballots can be mailed in as soon as they are received.