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Street lights could go dark

Will the lights be going out in Crescent Mills and Quincy? The lesson seems to be, if you want the board to give you money from the county’s contingency fund, you better get in line early in the fiscal year. Don’t wait until the money’s almost gone.

Also covered at the Plumas County Board of Supervisors’ May 9 meeting were food poisoning, drug court, snow removal, trends in social services, Feather River College and grand openings at the new mental health wellness centers located in communities throughout the county.

Keeping the lights on

The Crescent Mills and Quincy lighting districts are out of money.

  Bob Perreault, public works director, came before the board on May 9 representing the two lighting districts.

Perreault asked the board for money from the board’s rapidly dwindling contingency fund to help both districts keep the streetlights on through the rest of the fiscal year.

Supervisors from Indian Valley and Quincy, Kevin Goss and Lori Simpson, and Michael Sanchez, representing the Portola area, were on board. However, supervisors Sherrie Thrall and Jeff Engel, whose constituents would be paying to bail out Crescent Mills and Quincy without getting any of the benefits, voted against the measure.

Engel added, “I don’t like street lights. That’s why I live here. If I liked street lights, I’d live in Los Angeles.”

Thrall noted that the county wasn’t paying for lighting elsewhere in the county and that the special districts needed to get their houses in order. She asked them to consider their response to the proposal, “tough love.”

The measure needed four votes to stay alive. As Simpson, Sanchez and Goss were preparing to call for a vote, Simpson observed that she feared “doom and gloom” concerning the vote.

The measures to contribute or loan Crescent Mills $5,000 and to loan Quincy-East Quincy $25,000 to keep them solvent until next fiscal year went down in defeat.

Perreault told the board that the problem started over five years ago when the East Quincy Community Services District was losing money operating streetlights in East Quincy.

At the time, the Quincy Lighting District was solvent and so East Quincy CSD proposed that Quincy take over East Quincy’s street lighting responsibilities.

Perreault was elsewhere when the Plumas County Local Agency Formation Commission voted to give East Quincy’s lighting responsibilities to the Quincy Lighting District.

Pereault thought the decision was premature. He felt that East Quincy’s street lighting operations should have been made solvent before it was passed off to the Quincy Lighting District.

Simpson testified for Perreault, “I remember Bob, you were mad when Quincy got this from the East Quincy CSD.”

Five years later, the Quincy Lighting District has gone through all of its reserves and needs a loan from the county.

The Crescent Mills Lighting District is behind in its payments to PG&E to power its 15 streetlights. Crescent Mills has apparently borrowed money from the county general fund before to help it pay its power bill.

Perreault’s proposed fix

At this late date, Perreault’s proposed fix was twofold. First, get a loan from the county to carry Crescent Mills and Quincy lighting districts through the rest of the fiscal year. He noted that the county general fund was the only quick source of money to help the districts.

Second, Pereault had arranged with Kathy Williams, Plumas County clerk-recorder, to put a measure on the November ballot to have voters in Crescent Mills, Quincy and East Quincy vote for a parcel tax increase to keep the lights on.

Pereault felt the parcel increase would pay back the loans and permanently solve the lighting problem in Crescent Mills, Quincy and East Quincy within a year.

Pereault hoped that once everyone was back in the black, that the Quincy and East Quincy lighting districts could be merged or the county could create a countywide lighting district.

Perreault said, “This is the only logical solution to the situation.” The only other alternative, he said, was to “start turning off lights.”

Unfortunately, Craig Settlemire, county counsel, pointed out that it would take more than a year for the lighting districts to receive the increase in revenues. In the meantime, the districts would still have to get through next fiscal year without sufficient funds.

Thrall and others pointed out that there was no assurance the districts would carry the vote. If the measures didn’t pass, the county would be stuck with providing additional loans.

Simpson complained about special districts in general, “We have too many small special districts without money. We need to merge some.”

Thrall commented that she would like to see the county get out of the special district business all together. She said, “We don’t do it very well anyway, especially lighting districts.”

Settlemire commented that legally, the districts could start cutting back on lighting anytime the districts were without money to pay their bills.

In an interview later, Pereault said that he had been under the impression, during last year’s budget talks, that he would be coming to the board for a loan for the two districts at some point. He noted that he probably should have come for a loan earlier.

Pereault also said that PG&E could turn off the lights in Crescent Mills very soon because the electricity bill for the lights hasn’t been paid. He said that Quincy and East Quincy are under less of an immediate threat.

Food poisoning

The board signed a letter to California Assemblyman Brian Dahle opposing Assembly Bill 626 that would allow people to sell more types of food that was cooked in their homes.

Jerry Sipe, director of environmental health, brought the letter to the board for adoption. Sipe, Mimi Hall, director of public health and the board seemed nearly unanimous in believing that this was a bad idea.

Sipe argued that it is extremely hard to guarantee food safety even in plants designed especially for processing foods. He didn’t see how this could be accomplished with food processed in people’s homes.

Hall added that you have to consider that people have pets in their homes.

Sipe noted that there were 40 million cases of food poisoning in the U.S. last year, with 120,000 people hospitalized and 3,000 people dead.

Sipe pointed out that recent norovirus outbreaks closed three Sacramento County schools and seriously affected U.C. Davis. Sipe said that norovirus is easily spread.

Hall added, “I think we are looking at the possibility of a huge food-borne disease outbreak [in Plumas County] that we don’t have the capacity to deal with.”

Hall noted that Assembly Bill 626 has gained traction because people are out of work and looking for ways to make a living.

However, she said she was not in favor of doing this at the risk of poisoning people.

Drug court

Doris McMahon, a deputy probation officer, asks the board of supervisors to do what is necessary to save drug court during the public comment portion of its May 9 meeting. Photos by Steve Wathen

Doris McMahon, who has worked in the probation department for five-and-a-half years, shared her personal concerns about the breakdown of the county’s drug court.

She testified that there was no question that the program is helping people get back on their feet.

She said that is just a matter of getting all the agencies on the same page and working together. McMahon concluded, “It’s a community effort, it’s a team effort.”

Snow removal

Ken Nelson, Barry O’Sullivan and Zona Morgan from the Bucks Lake community spoke to the board about the necessity of plowing the roads around the lake so that people can get to work, resorts can open completely, campgrounds can be reopened and people can get access to their private cabins.

They felt it wouldn’t take that much time and money to open the roads because there were only occasional drifts blocking the roads.

Barry O’Sullivan, whose family owns a cabin at Bucks Lake, encourages the county to open the roads around the lake at the board of supervisors’ meeting May 9. O’Sullivan has been visiting the cabin almost weekly for years from his home in Reno.

The group also spoke about the economic losses to the county.

O’Sullivan said he fell in love with the area as a kid and returns to his family cabin most weekends in the summer and about half

the weekends in the winter. However, he said, he has had to go to other areas to recreate this year since the roads are closed.

He said the county used to open the roads by April 15, then the rule was that roads were opened when there was 3 feet of snow on the bridge.

Morgan said the way things are going, unless the county acts, the roads won’t be open until June.

She requested that the county do a survey of the roads to see how much work it would take to open them.

The group also noted that the Bucks Lake community pays much more in property taxes than they receive in county services, since most have no children in school and the local volunteer fire department manages local fires.

In a separate interview, Pereault said that the county surveyed the road on May 10 and the road around the lake is still covered by significant amounts of snow.

He pointed out that snow over 5 feet high requires use of a snow blower to remove. He said the snow blower costs $8,000 per day with a crew.

Pereault said that the snow blower moves very slowly and that they have found, in years past, that waiting for the snow to melt on its own goes just about as fast.

Joe Blackwell, public works deputy director, said, barring new snow, that his crews are working on storm damage in the area now and that he expects that most of the road around the lake will be open by June. He added that people already have access to the resorts and restaurants.

Pereault added, “We don’t have the extra money we had in the past for clearing roads.” He noted that the road department used to get a lot more money through Secure Rural Schools timber receipts program.

Pereault said that most of the department’s funds come from the gas tax and that the state has been diverting gas tax revenue of late.

The gas tax is supposed to be returned to counties starting in November but, he said, for now the economic situation is tough.

Pereault also pointed out that none of the road department’s funds comes from the county’s general fund.

Lastly, Pereault commented that the county uses the same criteria and methods for clearing snow along Warner Valley and La Porte roads as it uses along Bucks Lake Road.

Social services trends

Elliott Smart, director of social services, reported that the number of applicants for the department’s services has continued to decline since the economic collapse of 2008.

However, he reported that MediCal numbers have continued to climb, perhaps in response to the ongoing debate over health care at the federal level.

Smart also said that the department normally gets about four cases of suspected elder or disabled people being abused or neglected every month. However, he advised, twice that number of cases were reported over the last three months and the numbers may be rising.

Smart believes that child abuse numbers are still too high. He said that child protective services in Plumas County averages 14 investigations each month.

FRC bachelors program

Kevin Trutna, superintendent-president of FRC, informed the board that the college’s baccalaureate program is in jeopardy.

This is because the state’s pilot program giving community colleges the ability to offer baccalaureate degrees in areas not offered by state universities, is scheduled to sunset in 2015.

Trutna asked the board to support SB 769, which would continue to allow community colleges to offer baccalaureate in areas not offered at UC or CSU campuses.

Trutna noted that there was opposition to the bill by the California Teacher’s Association and the state’s public universities.

FRC currently offers a baccalaureate degree in equine studies. Other departments at FRC are hoping to offer baccalaureate degrees in the future.

Come and celebrate clinics

Aimee Heaney, mental health services coordinator, invited everyone to the grand openings of the county’s new mental health wellness centers in Chester, Greenville and Portola.

Heaney said she is glad that the clinics will make it possible for people to get the care they need without having to travel to Quincy.

Information concerning the timing of the grand openings and upcoming mental health community meetings can be found on Heaney’s Facebook page, which can be reached by going on Facebook and searching for “Plumas mental wellness.”

Information can also be found in advertisements by Behavioral Health published in local newspapers this month.

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