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County needs a break, gets a leak instead

Feather Publishing
5/30/2012

 

When it comes to finances, Plumas County can’t seem to catch a break lately.

We are facing a potential $1.5 million budget deficit. And we will be tackling the problem without the aid of a chief financial officer or an elected auditor. The Board of Supervisors is scrambling to meet the challenge. But it is going to be a major challenge that likely will leave the county — and county workers — with more cutbacks and reduced services.

There is no promise that things are going to get better anytime soon. In fact, they just got worse.

The recent discovery of a 100-year-old leaking fuel tank buried under Dame Shirley Plaza might not seem like a big deal in the county’s overall financial picture. But it is.

Removing the tank and replacing the contaminated soil could cost upward of $200,000. Even after the county’s insurance pays its share, the county will still be left with a $100,000 bill.

The extent of the contamination isn’t yet known. The underground plume of oil has been seeping northward toward West Main Street for decades. It has likely oozed under the county’s planning department building. The cleanup will present significant logistical challenges. At least 500 tons of contaminated soil will have to be removed and replaced.

The irony of the situation is that the reason the tank — a remnant of the old Quincy Hotel — was discovered was that the county and the State Administrative Office of the Courts were conducting soil testing in preparation for a new county courthouse.

The county was expecting to sell the Dame Shirley land to the state for about $1 million. The supervisors were hoping the $1 million infusion to the county general fund would help solve the budget problem, at least for another year.

But two weeks ago Gov. Jerry Brown slashed the state’s court budget, putting construction of 50 new courthouses on hold indefinitely — including Quincy’s. County Facilities Director Joe Wilson told the board “it could be several years” before the county gets a new courthouse.

In reality, the governor’s budget cut is costing Plumas County about $1.1 million: the $1 million we aren’t getting from the land sale plus the $100,000 we are spending to remove the tank from the land we aren’t selling. It has been rumored that the $1 million sale figure was much more than the county would realistically receive from the state. But getting nothing at all is a big loss for us.

Representatives from the Administrative Office of the Courts said the construction of the $30 million courthouse would be done with local contractors. That badly needed income would have been a major boost to the local economy.

It has been suggested that Plumas County should bill the state for the Dame Shirley Plaza rehabilitation. But the odds of the cash-strapped state coming up with the cash are probably slim to none.

Just like the state’s inmate realignment, this is another cost the county is going to have to absorb. We can only hope that more fiscal landmines don’t materialize in the near future. We simply can’t afford it.


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