LAFCO Laffs At Anderson Valley

by AVA News Service, April 12, 2017

County Wastes $6500 Boonville Ambulance Dollars

Phillip Thomas, Board member of Anderson Valley Ambulance Service, made the following remarks at the Monday, April 3, meeting of the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) at the Board of Supervisors chambers in Ukiah...

Thomas: I have been working with the Anderson Valley Community Services District on the merger [of the Ambulance Services with the CSD] until the recent annexation application in front of LAFCO. Now it [the annexation proposal) has been withdrawn. I want to express the frustration and ire of the Ambulance Service to you because we found that in this entire process in working with LAFCO we have seen a variety of answers and each time it changes the direction we need to take. We also paid $6500 in fees with the promise of course that you would be returning any funds which you didn't use. But mostly we have been run around the bush, burning up the fees, on something which you now tell us you have official legal advice that we didn't need and we shouldn't have started in the first place. This has been very frustrating. The second part of the frustration is in your guidelines of what the steps are for annexation of taxable parcels you direct that there will be negotiations between the entity, in this case the Anderson Valley CSD, and the County over shifting of tax dollars. I have to tell you that the County is totally and rudely unresponsive to our request to negotiate, to use your very language. We cannot, have not, even gotten a response to our request. You obviously do not have any teeth to say, Hey County, come to the table and have a discussion because they [the LAFCO] obviously aren't even responding to you. I will take this to the Board of Supervisors also. I think it's a disrespectful of public government when tax paid officials and elected officials don't even respond or when you get a the response like the one I got from my supervisor [Dan Hamburg], that, Oh yes, this is a bad situation. No solution — just it's a bad situation! This is sort of the alligators and the swamp. I've never really believed in that one but I sure feel like there are alligators in the swamp that we are dealing with. When two entities like the Anderson Valley Ambulance Service and the CSD moved towards merging they were doing it for the betterment of services in Anderson Valley, for the residents and visitors. It seems like we've spent at least 100 hours in meetings, in group phone calls with LAFCO and with the County, and it's all been for naught. It's all been as though we are going to a dance and there is no end in sight. It's like a wargame thing, it's better not to play at all. Why do we bother going through the process of trying to address things properly through offices of government when we don't get anything? It's not that we are not getting what we want, it is that we are not getting anywhere with it! We get different answers every time. I really hope that you will take it a look at the details of this situation to make sure that the next people who have to apply for this kind of situation are not given the kind of runaround we have been given. Thank you.

Supervisor John McCowen: I would like to respond briefly being that I sit both on LAFCO and the Board of Supervisors. It's unfortunate there has been a miscommunication, particularly regarding the issue of "tax share negotiations," which there have been none with the county. I think I would have known about it had there been actual negotiations that were authorized by the board. They were not. There is a March 1 letter written by the Chief [AV Fire Chief Andres Avila] requesting that there be negotiations. But on March 6 the Chief appeared before this body and said they were dropping the annexation issue which would have required tax share negotiations. So hopefully everybody has learned something from this process. But there has been I believe a lot of miscommunications. And that's unfortunate. It's not clear to me, was the application for merger withdrawn as well as for annexation? It’ unclear based on the recent comments there.

Chief Avila: The current status of our negotiation is we have taken off the subject of annexation. For the simple reason that the value we would get [from the newly annexed parcels] we were told — the estimate, was in the $5000 range. That was just too small. So it was off the table. By no means would we take that small amount. [It wouldn’t cover anywhere near the cost of services for those additional parcels.] Since then I was instructed this morning that the negotiation from the county, I believe it was Alan Flora, mentioned that we would probably get nothing. There was no obligation to give us a single dime. So there is just no money on the table. That's why we have taken it off. But since I discussed it with you, in order to not just let it go, I re-contacted and re-contacted and re-contacted by phone and e-mail to see if there is any chance of negotiations, any further process we can do, and nothing — no e-mail, no phone calls, or come back, until this morning when we got the e-mail saying nothing. So at this point, while we may still entertain the annexation, we have officially dropped it and we are only proceeding with the latent power activation.

McCowen: And another clarification because it was part of your remarks, the amount of revenue that the district [CSD] currently gets. But I believe that's primarily based on the assessment that the district has for parcels or units to pay into the district?

Avila: Obviously you understand the property tax portion of it, we also have the benefit assessment for parcels in the district boundaries. For us to go outside the district boundaries and still provide services we have contracted with those parcels.

McCowen: I understand all that. The point I am making is that the bulk of the revenue from your existing territory comes from the benefit assessment, not from property tax, I believe.

Avila: Say that again. I'm not sure I agree with that.

McCowen: I believe the bulk of your revenue for your existing territory comes from the benefit assessment.

Avila: No.

McCowen: It comes from property tax?

Avila: I believe our District manager Joy Andrews can speak to that.

Andrews: We get $144,000 in benefit assessment and the property tax revenue is over $200,000, so combined you are looking at between $350,000 and $400,000.

McCowen: I'm going a little further in public comment, but I will see that we get back to you and answer your questions.

Avila: We are not off the table with annexation. I believe we could adjust the boundaries to be legal district boundaries and get rid of all the loopholes and correct everything 100%. We talk about providing service and service boundaries – fire, medical -- but there's also all these plan checks and reviews, new building projects and development going on, planning applications — all that is affected. At present the county takes that on. [But not very well and very slowly.] There are other things besides emergency services out there. We need to correct these boundaries, and it's a shame to let it go. But as of now it's off the table, you betcha.

LAFCO Board Chard Jerry Ward: Does your letter that you gave to us last meeting also go to the ambulance service for review?

Avila: They have seen it, yes.

Ward: I heard you mention that you're going before the Board of Supervisors. Is that the next step?

Avila: We will definitely let them know our issue. But at this point it feels like a lost cause. So all we are going to do is push on with the latent power portion. But by all means we should not just let it go and not address it. We should at least let the Board of Supervisors know that there is a clear issue here. And this is true for the whole county. There are major boundary issues out there, even Humboldt is coming down in our [Mendocino] territory. We need to clean that up. Today we are having a meeting with LAFCO staff about these boundaries.

Joy Andrews: I would like to add one thing. I think Philip [Thomas] mentioned about the fact that the prior LAFCO staff told us that the LAFCO Commission would like to see the annexation wrapped up with the latent power application. I would just like to remind you that we paid $1500 as a pre-agreement with Plan-Wise Partners right before their contract ended with you. They provided us with a lot of assistance in preparing the application before it even came to LAFCO. Now we have paid, you know, an additional $6000 as a deposit towards getting this whole application approved. It is unfortunate that the consultant and your staff's time and our time was spent on the annexation only to come to find out that that actually it is not required, it was just more suggested and there’s no money in it. So I would hope that you would take that into consideration in looking at the final [LAFCO] fees [to the CSD]. We did expend quite a bit on things that we did not need in the first place.

Ward: We will need to look at that in the future.

* * *

PREDICTION: Nothing will be corrected, much less “looked at in the future.”

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