“Boonville is flushing their toilets and drinking it.” This was the graphic, frank assessment of Anderson Valley fire chief Colin Wilson to Community Service District directors last week regarding the latest chapter in the contaminated fire-house well saga. Long time readers may recall that the petroleum contamination in the well was reported to State authorities some fifteen years ago. Investigations determined several Boonville wells were contaminated. Responsible agencies issued remediation orders, and are still “monitoring” results. The old fire-house has been demolished, the old well sealed, a new fire station constructed and a new well drilled. The new well has not yet tested free of petroleum contamination, and now, according to the most recent tests for potability, it tests positive for fecal matter. No one knows whether this represents a faulty well-seal, damage during recent paving operations, or major ground water contamination. Valley readers will be comforted to know that Fifth District Supervisor David Colfax was quoted during his recent campaign saying that “his water people” think there is no water problem in Anderson Valley.
The new fire station has been “finaled” and a probable date set for a community celebration (June 8th or 9th). Anne Bennett, Building Project director, will submit the final Profit & Loss statement next month. Preliminary figures show an expenditure of $247,621 borrowed from the municipal lending agency MSG. An additional allocation of $61,705 from Reserves bring the total cost to $309,327. There was some confusion over a number of small unpaid bills, transfers from reserves, and refunds and reimbursements. District General Manager put responsibility for the problem on MSG, prompting a criticism of that institution from Director Eva Johnson. The Board chose to ignore Bennett's sharp retort that “Anything we say about them, they could say the same thing about us three times over.” The inability of District management to work in a timely manner with MSG, especially in submitting bills, has caused the usually soft-spoken Bennett embarrassment and frustration through out the entire building project.
“April is the cruelest month…mixing memory and desire.” April is the month “budget units” prepare budgets for presentation to governing bodies which are supposed attentively to consider them and then approve a “provisional budget” for public review and comment in May, before adoption in June. Budgets are not, as is often mistakenly supposed, fixed-in-cement financial plans. They are a presentation of the next year's program (desire) with the probable cost and the source of probable revenue (memory) to get the job done. In Anderson Valley “budget units” are the fire department, the recreation committee, the airport, the street lights, and the District administrative budget. At Wednesday's meeting no budget was forthcoming from any unit except the fire department. District General Manager Jan Wasson-Smith said that both airport and recreation committees were aware of the requirement, but had not sent her the necessary material. Wasson-Smith's own budget was unavailable due to a computer/printer interface problem.
The fire department budget was supposedly ready, but it was not discussed. An agenda foul-up, absence of the General Manger and resulting lack of minutes from the Budget Committee meeting left Directors feeling unprepared to tackle the major issue of fire department planning — the acquisition program for new fire trucks with an expenditure from accumulated fire reserves. They did, however, participate in a lengthy jocular critique of Wilson's supposed plans to “raid OUR reserves.” This reference is to the almost $60,000 carried, contrary to law and common sense, in the CSD account with no stated plans for expenditure. Directors did not explain why they felt the money was “theirs,” nor what they intended to do with it.
Actually, it is probably a good thing the Board did not discuss the fire department budget because figures from the County Auditor's office show a substantial negative difference between County estimates of revenue figures, and those supplied to the fire department by the General Manager for planning purposes.
At some point, one assumes, the Board will have to address the complete collapse of all normal fiscal oversight in the District, but there seems no sign that it will happen soon. Wasson-Smith's unstinting and effective volunteer work as the number three officer of the Fire Department (Battalion Chief), as Department Training Officer, and as Ambulance medic make any criticism seem churlish. The work she does as District Secretary and General Manager is, however, the work for which she is paid, and that work is not getting done.
The LAFCO Circle
Readers of his Editorship's weekly diatribe please remember last week's “Park After Thought” item. There is, in the back corner of the high school grounds, the remains of a Community Park: play equipment, barbecue pits, some tables, and some neglected wind-break planting. This derelict site is what is left of a well-intentioned community effort by the CSD Recreation Committee, the CSD Board, some firefighters, the School Board and the Latino Community. Donated labor, donated equipment, donated site, plans to provide a picnic spot for families of those using the school playing fields for weekend recreation — the intent was that minimal upkeep would be undertaken by the school, and that the Latino Community would keep a nominal eye on things. Uncomplicated, no agreement, nothing spelled out, just community involvement, good-will and no bureaucracy involved. Having spent some time assembling the playground equipment, your reporter is taking a little umbrage at Mr. Big's snide dismissal. Of course the predictable result is: No Park! Public facilities require public maintenance. Public maintenance requires user fees or public money or a designated agency to do the task.
This week Directors spent considerable time fussing over why they couldn't spend money on community beautification, on participation in a number of joint efforts for community development grants, on a public toilet for downtown Boonville. The answer is, of course, that voters have approved expenditure of tax money for lights and fire protection. Only. Period. Later, school staffer Donna Pierson-Pugh asked what exactly it would take to change that. That answer is a District Reorganization through the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), accompanied by a voter-approved tax measure. LAFCO is charged with “…promoting orderly development… preserving open space and prime agricultural lands, and extending government services efficiently…”
Which brings us back to the response from LAFCO Executive Officer Frank McMichael to a CSD letter asking him to justify his agency and their mandated take from District revenues. McMichael says he has no choice, nor does the District. The Legislature has set the formula, and requires the County to deduct the amount from defaulters. [The formula is so poorly devised that revenue from charges for medical services at Hospital Districts are calculated on a par with general tax revenue. In Mendocino, Coast District Hospital has been charged $30,000 compared to the $337 billed to the CSD. Recent legislative efforts to correct this inequity will, if passed, result in considerable higher costs for fire districts.]
McMichael also explains that the Legislature revised LAFCO responsibilities in 2000, now requiring the agency to do what amounts of a Performance Audit of all agencies every five years. Although the original intent of the legislation (Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg) was that the State would pay for the costs involved, that portion of the law was vetoed by Gray Davis. He points out that LAFCOs all over the State are struggling with the new charge, most stating that they do not have staff, expertise, or money to accomplish the reviews. McMichael added he encouraged all local Districts to write their legislators to state concerns with what he feels is an ill-considered and unworkable requirement.
The LAFCO budget for next year will be reviewed by the Commission in early May, and will be available for public comment at that time. The Commission develops its own budget, reviews it, and charges what it thinks is needed to do required tasks. It is not responsible to outside agencies in this matter.
Chief Wilson and Navarro firefighters Garth and Judy Long met with representatives from Mendocino Redwood Company to set approximate boundaries for a 110x155 foot lot, near the MRC shop on the Masonite Road, to be donated to house a relocated Navarro fire station. Present plans are for a “no frills two bay station” but the site is big enough for a three bay station with office and bathroom if needed in the future.
The Department will acquire a Federal Excess 4x4 1985 “brush truck,” newer than any apparatus currently operated by the District. The truck is free, reported in good condition by Department Maintenance Officer Don Gowan, needing only an engine replacement priced at “probably below $5,000.”
Working with the 21st Century Grant program the Rec Committee hopes to continue funding children's enrichment and before-school programs next year. The Committee also plans to present the successful community chorus program, and adult volleyball again. Will there be a summer program? Hoped for, no guarantee! If you have the interest, the skill, and the energy get in touch with Lauren Keating, Donna Pierson-Pugh, Leslie Hummel, or Gail Gester and offer your talents.
The Committee is still waiting on approval from Caltrans of the big slurry seal runway resurfacing grant; has not yet filed a required mitigation report with the County for the Airport Layout Plan; is waiting on a date for public presentation of the plan by consultants Shutt-Moen in June. Committee members are expecting higher expenses next year to cover yet another increase in insurance. (“Everything connected to airplane insurance has gone sky-high.” — actual quote, no pun intended.) They also are looking at a major repair to a rusting portion of a 24-inch culvert which carries water off from under the runway.