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Special districts take stand in LAFCo fee dispute

Dan McDonald
Managing Editor
6/14/2014

The Plumas County Special Districts Association (PCSDA) wants to use its collective muscle to change a fee structure in the county. It also wants two seats on the Local Agency Formation Commission board of directors.

That was the message the association agreed to send to the county Board of Supervisors last week.

During its Wednesday, June 4, meeting at the Quincy library the association members in attendance voted to send letters to the supervisors and also the Portola City Council.

The show-of-hands vote was in response to a presentation by Lake Davis activist Trent Saxton. He told the 20 PCSDA members that the current LAFCo fee structure isn’t fair to Portola residents.

He said the collective influence of the county’s 52 special districts could persuade the Board of Supervisors to change the fee structure.

The city and county currently split the $101,000 annual fee. Saxton said that breaks down to $25 for every Portola resident, while the rest of the county pays what would amount to be about $2.50 per person.

Saxton argued the most equitable formula would be for the county to pay the entire bill from the general fund. He said it would amount to a simple ledger transfer. He added the county has $450,000 more revenue than it had last year.

“Whose money is this? It’s our money,” Saxton said. “It’s our tax dollars that go to the general fund. It’s your money.”

Saxton took the LAFCo fee issue to the special districts because he said the Portola City Council wouldn’t stand up for itself with the county.

Two months ago the City Council voted 5-0 to send a letter to the supervisors asking for the LAFCo fee to be paid on a per capita basis. However, days later, the council members changed course and voted 4-1 against the idea, opting instead to send a letter to the state Assembly.

The association agreed with Saxton’s argument about equity. Members said they plan to talk to supervisors individually to see how each feels about the two-pronged idea — the county paying the entire LAFCo bill and place two special district members on the LAFCo board.

The state law says the supervisors can vote to make the changes if they wish.

“I think if the supervisors are really open-minded about this thing, they would see real benefit to having the representation from the special districts sitting there,” said former supervisor Don Clark, who represents the Graeagle Fire Protection District. “That’s part of what we are going to have to convince them to do, if we are going to convince them to pay the tab.”

LAFCo Executive Officer John Benoit said it could be in the county’s best interest to have PCSDA representation on the LAFCo board, even if the supervisors don’t agree to pay the entire LAFCo bill.

“Counties are really dependent on the special districts,” Benoit told the association members. “You guys provide all the services. If you fail, or go bankrupt, guess who’s going to get the keys to the district office? The Board of Supervisors. Guess who’s going to pay for it? The county. So they (supervisors) have a vested interest in maintaining the viability of the special districts throughout the county.”

No supervisors attended the association meeting. Supervisor Jon Kennedy submitted written statements to the association. Kennedy has publicly acknowledged the current fee structure isn’t fair. But he hasn’t supported Saxton’s idea. He said the issue should be resolved by the Portola City Council and supervisors working together.

Kennedy was appointed to a committee along with Portola Supervisor Terry Swofford and City Council members Phil Oels and Bill Powers. They were tasked with finding a solution to the fee issue. The four-man committee drafted a letter to the state Assembly that included several ideas and requested input.

Former supervisor Robert Meacher, who was named Portola’s new city manager last month, attended the PCSDA meeting. He said he couldn’t speak for the City Council, but said he would report the meeting details to the council members.

Saxton and the special district association members said they expected to get support from the City Council because Portola residents would benefit the most from the plan.

Saxton said that if the Board of Supervisors rejects the association’s plan, the decision should be left to the voters in the form of a ballot initiative.

But he told the association members that the special districts have a lot of influence on the supervisors.

“You have the strength of the voters behind you, and you don’t even realize that,” Saxton said. “Because the supervisors are elected by who? … The people in your districts.”


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