Who’s In Charge?

by Mark Scaramella, May 5, 2010

Community Services District Manager Serina Wallace has suggested to the Community Services District board that they change the way they budget district operations. Instead of most of the money coming into the fire department and then being redistributed in a convoluted manner to administration and other district functions, Ms. Wallace proposes that all revenues come in to the district office and then be distributed according to individual departmental operational budgets.

(Odd to be talking like the four tiny towns of the Anderson Valley were as complicated as the Pentagon, but here we are all the way through The Looking Glass.)

Ms. Wallace calls her commonsense suggestion a “combined program budget.” The District’s property tax revenues would be thus disbursed, but not the benefit assessment revenues which are dedicated to fire protection activities only. Ms. Wallace says the District now receives slightly over $201,000 per year in property taxes, over half of which (about $111,000) go for payroll and associated costs, the rest goes to insurance, memberships and fees, utilities, supplies, continuing education and reserves.

The benefit assessment represents $130k in additional revenues solely for the fire department. There are also several miscellaneous additional revenues flowing into the Boonville Fire House such as out of district fees, sales of equipment, donations, grants, a little bit of interest, and — theoretically — strike team reimbursements. However Ms. Wallace has estimated no strike team revenue this year because a question has arisen about how withholding tax must be handled for firefighters who staff the strike teams on out of Valley fire responses. The fire department budget shows no revenue from strike team reimbursements this year even though prior years we've received substantial additional revenue from our fire fighters' expeditions to distant conflagrations.

Fire Department expenses (after the Chief’s generous salary) break down into: communications, clothing and personal equipment, boots, education and training, travel and transportation, equipment maintenance, capital equipment, structure maintenance, structure upgrades and improvements, medical, dental and lab supplies for the emergency response vehicles, fire prevention activities, tools and equipment, fuel, and a few smaller miscellaneous expenses. The largest of these non-salary fire department expenses is equipment maintenance at $22,000 followed by fuel at $17,000.

The fire department also has loan payments to make which total about $44,000 per year for the new Navarro fire engine and the firehouse itself.

Boonville International Airport is treated separately and receives no property tax money; Boonville International's total revenue this year will be about $5000 because the state's $10k/year airport assistance grant has been discontinued due to the state’s bankruptcy.

The Recreation Committee has about $24,000 on account, but spends very little of it since there is very little regular recreational activity in the Valley. Most of what can be called recreational activity in the Valley — besides the unspeakable — is organized through the school district, not the Community Services District.

The last budgeted operation is the Teen Center, which is jointly run by an unnecessarily complicated collection of organizations including the school district, the Community Action Coalition, the Teen Center board, the Recreation Committee, and the Community Services District board. The District's Budget Committee also has a limited role in the teen center’s finances. Combined revenues from fundraising, donations, grants, local phone book sales, and miscellaneous dues and fees brings the estimated total revenue for the Teen Center to almost $33,000 per year. Out of that revenue stream the Teen Center pays for a part-time manager plus a variety of miscellaneous operating expenses and fees in addition to the expenses to produce the local phonebook, which is about to go on sale, hopefully at a profit which will also help fund the Center.

At last week’s CSD Board meeting, Community Action Coalition co-chair Colleen Schenk suggested that the board host a candidate's night for the Fifth District supervisor race at the Boonville Fairgrounds. After a brief discussion centered pessimistically on how few people would probably attend, and the $250 rent the Fairgrounds charges, the board thought the diplomatic Steve Sparks, a person widely acceptable to the wildly diverse population of Anderson Valley, might host a candidates’ night since he has been in touch with all four candidates for a series of interviews appearing in this newspaper. Mr. Sparks soon said he preferred not to moderate such an event and that was that. Ms. Schenk is reportedly regrouping.

More than $10,000 has been donated to finance and fund a K-9 unit for local deputy Craig Walker.

The invaluable Anderson Valley phone directory, produced under the auspices of the Teen Center, has been short volunteer help so they've hired a layout specialist for $500. The reference books are supposed to be on sale by May 15, proceeds to fund the Teen Center operations.

The school district has decided to accept full responsibility for the community park which lies between the high school tennis courts and the Anderson Valley Health Center.

Elementary school principal Donna Pierson-Pugh submitted an “Anderson Valley Teen Center organizational chart” to the board for review. The chart has five boxes in four different categories arranged vertically but with no connecting lines:

Box 1: “Oversight: the Anderson Valley Community Services District has responsibility for oversight of fiscal, personnel and insurance with a monthly report from the coordinator.”

Box 2: “The Methodist Church has oversight for facilities and insurance.”

Box 3: “Supervision. The Anderson Valley Community Services District Recreation Committee is responsible for fiscal, personnel and insurance.”

Box 4: “Management. The Anderson Valley Teen Center Board is responsible for fiscal, program and personnel.

Box 5: “Coordination. The Teen Center coordinator implements Anderson Valley Teen Center Board decisions, budget, grant writing and reporting, fund-raising, and coordinates activities.”

“Wacky” was one board member's apt descriptive term considering the small size of the group being managed.

Board chair Diane Paget suggested that the Board take a slightly less critical official stance and tell the Teen Center that the board “didn't understand” the organization chart.

All of the operating departments in the Community Services District except the fire department have asked to have their administrative fees waived or reduced for various reasons. The Airport Committee says that since they are no longer getting the state grant then they can no longer The recreation committee says that some property tax revenues should go to subsidize their administration since recreational activities are part of the District’s charter, and since the Teen Center their functions benefit “the kids” (All rise!) they too should get a reduction in their administrative fees.

Fire Chief Colin Wilson considers all of these requests to be a zero-sum game which end up costing the fire department money. Wilson also complains that the district admin cost is somewhat more expensive this year, the added expense also to come out of the Fire Department budget.

“My concern,” the Chief reported, “is that if these changes are implemented as proposed, the most likely scenario is that the entire amount will end up coming from the property tax revenues and reduce fire department revenues in the coming year by over $11,000, presumably an additional $4,500 in future years when the CSD's fund balance carry over is exhausted. In my opinion these proposed changes constitute a radical new proposed policy in which property tax revenues would be redirected from fire protection to the airport, the teen center and recreation projects. While the amounts currently involved would not be catastrophic to the fire department in the immediate future, they might very well become catastrophic in future years for several reasons: first and foremost, once this course is set, there is no telling how far as they go. What will happen if the Airport should require expensive maintenance in the $100-$200,000 range as has happened in the past? There has been discussion in the recent past of taking on responsibility for various parks in the district. Will these proposals resurface with property tax funding? Secondly, the fire department is perceived in some circles as having an abundance of money. Some believe we could well afford to give up several thousand dollars without significant damage. While it is true that we have made great strides in the last several years we have done so largely with revenue generated from grants, donations and strike team revenue. None of these sources can be predicted in future years. We are currently looking at the very real possibility of having to urgently discontinue participation in strike team responses due to the Catch-22 situation between the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Labor Standards Commission. We have enjoyed and are extremely grateful for the great support we have received in donations averaging over $30,000 annually for the last four years, but there is no guarantee this will continue indefinitely into the future. Grant funds are always tied to specific projects, not operating costs and can never be depended upon in any event. On the expense side, I will be retiring in four years. It is unlikely my replacement will agree to a contract that does not include health benefits and participation in the CalPERS retirement program. These two items alone could easily cost an additional $20,000 annually. For the present, I will leave this subject. I feel strongly that these proposed changes need a full public hearing given their potential to damage the future of fire protection in the Valley.”

The Budget Committee and the Board are expected to consider these various arguments and probably others in their upcoming May meetings. For further for additional information contact the Community Services District Manager Serina Wallace at 895-2075.

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