The Plumas County Board of Supervisors opened a two-day public hearing on Friday, Sept. 29 to consider a proposed $166 million budget scheduled for adoption Monday, Oct. 2, the state deadline.
The 2023-2024 Recommended Budget includes $58 million in general funds, with $15.6 million in an unassigned fund balance available for the supervisors to allot at their discretion, and several million dollars in sub-funds. The supervisors use the fund balance for emergencies and unanticipated expenses. Sub-funds are one-time monies usually dedicated to specific purposes, and not expected to be available in future years.
The budget includes $45 million in payments for employee salaries, benefits and retirement funds. It increases the number of full-time employees by 6.25 to an allotted total of 416.376 full-time equivalents.
Additional moneys found
Some million-dollar figures discussed at the hearing have changed since County Administrative Officer Debra Lucero posted them Sept. 20 on the Plumas County website. Over that nine-day period, she and county staff have continued to scour more than 94 sub-funds to determine if they are restricted to specific uses or already committed.
That has added around $5 million to the discretionary fund balance, increasing it to $15.6 million, Lucero said. “This is good news for the county,” she said.
Lucero introduced about 40 such changes to the 5400 line-items included in the budget posted on the county website. These updates will be included in the Oct. 2 discussion.
Disposition of $7.8 million Dixie Fire settlement fund sparks debate
Debate at the two-hour budget hearing was focused on the $7.8 million settlement fund county supervisors accepted as payment from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for damages from the Dixie fire. California fire officials found PG&E responsible for starting the blaze with faulty electrical equipment in the Feather River Canyon near Pulga.
The budget recommends using this money as a match to mitigation projects; cash flow for new jail construction; contribution to an investment portfolio to realize new cash; and new radio equipment, towers, repairs to HVAC and plumbing.
Sue Weber, a volunteer who coordinated the Dixie Fire Collaborative for over two years, objected to using the PG&E funds for general county purposes. She called the idea that everyone countywide suffered equally from the Dixie fire a “false narrative.”
“Everybody suffered but they did not suffer in the same way. No community but Greenville lost a library. No where else are people gathering in a tent,” Weber said.
Nicole LaCrue, of Indian Valley, said the “only $7.8 million” settlement left her feeling frightened and unprotected.
“We don’t have a library. We don’t have a bank. We don’t have a hardware store. Our roads are being destroyed by PG&E… How am I supposed to feel safe when my four-year-old asks me, ‘Why is everything is so broken?’”
“Why is everything is so broken?”Nicole LaCrue’s four-year-old child
Supervisor Kevin Goss, whose district includes Greenville and Indian Valley, said the settlement funds should be used to build back the library and other county buildings destroyed by the Dixie fire. They could also be used to address cash-flow issues, including those encountered during construction of a new county jail, he said.
District 5 Supervisor Jeff Engel immediately proposed a resolution guaranteeing that the $7.8 million settlement fund be used exclusively for the burn scar area: Indian Falls, Greenville, Canyon Dam and Warner Valley. The money should go directly to fire recovery and as leverage for additional funds for Dixie fire-related rebuild efforts, said Engel, who represents the East Quincy and Graeagle area.
“Message received,” said Tom McGowan, whose Third District includes Chester and Warner Valley, both within the burn scar.
Engel’s proposal will be part of a discussion on the Board’s Oct. 17 agenda, said Lucero. It is unrelated to adopting the 2024 fiscal year budget.
Have your say at the Oct. 2 budgetary hearing
The Plumas County Board of Supervisors meeting is accessible for public comment via live streaming at https://zoom.us/j/94875867850?pwd=SGlSeGpLVG9wQWtRSnNUM25mczlvZz09. It is also available by phone at 1-669-900-9128; Meeting ID: 948 7586 7850. Passcode: 261352.
The Board also encouraged the public to submit comments on special meeting agenda by email at Public@countyofplumas.com.