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County pleads for restored Williamson funding

FireWardenAndDeputy BWweb.jpg By Dale Andreasen - CAL FIRE Unit Chief and County Fire Warden Bernie Paul (right) appeared before the board Tuesday to seek approval to appoint Jeff Burns (left) to the position of Deputy County Fire Warden. The appointment was unanimously approved.
by Dale Andreasen, Siskiyou Daily News 9/3/09
Yreka, Calif. - Stating that loss of funding will cost the county $700,000 and could result in the loss of 11 county positions, the board of supervisors Tuesday approved a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urging him to restore “this modest appropriation [that] will allow counties to continue to participate in the California Land Conservation Act, also referred to as the Williamson Act.”

Schwarzenegger used his line-item veto in July to slash the $28 million needed to fund the program that has helped preserve agricultural lands and open spaces in California since 1965.

Land owners who sign a Williamson Act contract get substantial breaks on their property taxes by agreeing to keep the land in agricultural production or as open space. The state has been subsidizing the counties for the loss in property tax through a subvention program.

Last month the board voted to continue honoring the approximately 400 Williamson Act contracts covering 419,000 acres in the county whether reimbursement comes from the state or not.

“This year’s suspension of the subvention funding may be the last straw for some counties struggling to provide essential public services,” the letter states.   

It goes on to say that the supervisors “…fear that eliminating the subvention payments is the first step toward a total unraveling of the broadest-based agricultural conservation program in the state.

“California is losing its working landscapes at an alarming rate while simultaneously faced with tremendous population pressure that further jeopardizes the economic vitality of thousands of farming and ranching enterprises.”

Noting California’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and addressing global warming, the letter asks the governor to “Please recognize that the Williamson Act is the ultimate compliment to these measures.

“The Act strives to protect farmland and open space, land, which in itself reduces greenhouse gas emissions through the carbon sequestration process,” it continues.

“The preservation of agriculture and open space is not just a local priority, it is – and must remain – a state priority. We urge you to support restoration of the Williamson Act subventions in 2010.”

The letter was approved by a vote of 4-0. Supervisor Marcia Armstrong was absent for the vote.

Hearing date set for adoption of 2009-2010 final budget

By a vote of 3-1 the board voted to hold the hearing for adoption of the 2009-2010 final budget on Sept. 8 during the regularly-scheduled board meeting. The dissenting vote came from Board Chair Michael Kobseff, who wanted to hold the hearing on Sept. 29 in order to see if some financial uncertainties might be resolved by then.

County Administrative Officer Brian McDermott led a detailed discussion of the problems the county faces in balancing the budget. He presented a “best-case scenario,” a “worst-case scenario” and what he feels is “likely to happen.”

Assuming that the Williamson Act subvention funding will not be restored, McDermott predicts that a $475,000 shortfall is likely.

The county has applied for $5 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or ARRA, the stimulus act passed by Congress and signed into law in February of this year. McDermott’s best-case scenario predicts that $1 million will be approved, while his likely scenario predicts $700,000.

If the Siskiyou County Employees’ Association (AFSCME), the largest employee union, votes to waive its cost of living increase as all department heads and several other employee groups have done, it would save $300,000 and help resolve the budget shortfall, according to McDermott. However, he declined to predict how the vote will go. It is expected within two weeks.

The county is owed $100,000 by the state for special election reimbursement, but it is uncertain whether that will be paid.

Earlier in the year, the county dealt with a projected $4.2 million shortfall in the preliminary budget. To bring it into balance, the county used $1.2 million in “one-time funds” and saved the other $3 million by laying off about 25 employees.

State law requires that a balanced final budget be approved and submitted no later than Oct. 2.

Jeff Burns appointed to Deputy County Fire Warden position

The board unanimously approved the appointment of Jeff Burns to the position of Deputy County Fire Warden. CAL FIRE Unit Chief and County Fire Warden Bernie Paul appeared before the board along with Burns, who has been with CAL FIRE since 1981. Burns is replacing Steve McClean, who retired recently. Jim Sweet is the other Deputy County Fire Warden..

Sheriff’s Chaplain position reinstated with donated funds

Due to sheriff’s office budget cutbacks, the chaplain position, held by Keith Bradley, had to be cut in July. Bradley has since been working on a volunteer basis. Many county citizens have been donating money to keep the program going, according to Camy Rightmier, the sheriff’s office deputy financial officer.

A specially designated account was set up to receive the donations and to make payments to Chaplain Bradley. A new contract was approved by the board of supervisors, which will allow Bradley to be paid an amount equal to the balance in the designated account, but no more than $2,200 monthly.
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