What’s known as the “25% Rule” has been abolished by the Plumas County Board of Supervisors on April 16.
Plumas County Public Works Director Bob Perreault recommended to supervisors they vote to abolish the practice for street lighting electric bill assistance.
“Historically, the Department of Public Works has reimbursed certain lighting districts within Plumas County up to 25 percent of their street lighting electricity bill when requested by the lighting district,” Perreault explained.
Perreault added that the program has always been subject to the availability of surplus funds within the approved budget of the Road Division of Public Works.
“The “25%” funding program was established during a time when the Department of Public Works possessed a large cash reserve,” Perreault explained. “And benefited from a steady revenue stream associated with timber receipts from the national forests.” This was in the late 1970s, he said.
Four lighting districts have been benefiting from the plan: Chester Public Utility District, Crescent Mills Lighting District, Indian Valley Community Services District and Quincy Lighting District (this includes the former East Quincy Services District).
When the funding assistance program was initially created Public Works had reserve funds enabling it to assist the special districts. “However, over the years the regulatory demands upon the department budget has continually increased, while the revenue side of the equation has fluctuated and, during some years, has been unfunded,” Perreault explained.
“The financial impacts during the past 12 years, and the ability of lighting districts to propose rate increases, justify the abolition of the financial assistance program,” Perreault added.
Perreault pointed out to supervisors that the lighting districts are their own governments and can’t expect Public Works to continue to subsidize them.
In fact, voters in two districts made the decisions to turn the lights off, he added. However, despite that move PG&E has continued to leave the lights on in East Quincy. “I thought it would be easy to have PG&E turn off everything and it isn’t,” he said.
Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said that CPUD has always needed the additional funding. Although she said she’s been telling the CPUD board that they needed to prepare for the day when Public Works would withdraw its assistance, she thought that CPUD still needed time to notify “people before the lights go out.”
“They’re in a pretty desperate financial situation,” Thrall said.
“I’m concerned that we don’t pull the rug out from under the special districts,” Thrall said. In the case of CPUD it was never identified as a special lighting district. That was added along with other things for the district to manage.
Perreault pointed out that Walker Ranch as a special district has reserves that are significant enough it has never needed to request additional funding from Public Works.
Perreault did agree with Thrall in that special districts needed time to notify people. It does take more than a few weeks to get something on the ballots, he said.
Supervisor Lori Simpson asked Perreault if Public Works had a ballpark figure on how much the assistance costs per year. Assistant Director John Mannle said that it was about $50,000 several years ago. He said he would run the numbers and have them in time for budget session.
Thrall said that abolishing the “25% Rule” was fine with her, but she wanted to give special districts at least six months to plan.
Simpson said that by waiting until the budget sessions there was still time to get street lighting on the November ballot.
Supervisors voted to discontinue the special rule.