Dec172018

Something Smells Funky

by Lou Binninger

Yuba County leaders count on residents to be a tad on the passive and dull side. Supervisors and the administration made up their minds to increase sales taxes by 1% to “rescue public safety.” Meanwhile they were keeping other revenue sources to fund employee pensions under wraps. Yep, we’re broke they said. But they weren’t.

The deception started with pitching the Measure K sales tax ordinance as a funding stream for public safety to be set aside in a special fund. That was both a lie and illegal. They said they only needed a simple majority vote to pass. That was wrong.

Restricting new tax-generated funds and setting them aside in a special account necessitates a 2/3s vote of the citizens, not a simple majority. In the November 6, 2018 election 53.04% or 7,964 voted for more sales taxes and 46.96% or 7,051 said no.

The promotion of the Measure K tax increase highlighted public safety and used hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for the marketing campaign. Government is forbidden from spending tax dollars to lobby citizens for more of their money.

Then, as soon as the votes were counted the Yuba County Water Agency directors (5 of whom serve as supervisors) “discovered” that there was approximately $500,000 in property taxes annually being paid to the Agency by Yuba County to run Agency operations. We are told that agency directors suddenly realized that this money might not be needed any longer by the Agency since it had $100 million in reserves while paying the most lavish pay, benefits and retirement in the county according to Agency administrative people.

In 2017, Water Agency power and water sales generated $66,748,803 and in 2016, $51,201,672. The Agency since 2016 receives all revenue for water and power sales from Bullards Bar Dam. During the Measure K campaign the question was posed, why is poor Yuba County still giving any funds to the well-heeled Water Agency? No response was given until after the Measure K votes were counted.

Now, the Water Agency is saying that most of the supervisors’ effort is focused on the Agency serving as directors so maybe the Agency should reimburse the county for 50% of their salary and other costs. Really? That would have been helpful to pay for public safety, as well. Funny that did not surface before the election just 5 weeks earlier.

It’s confusing. The supervisors explained after nearly doubling their salaries before the recession in 2008 that their job was a fulltime affair. Of course, that was always questionable since they barely meet twice each month and then in the morning when few people can attend to question or challenge what really is going on. This is a classic example of “public servants” catering to the needs of “public servants” versus the citizens.

Would $600,000-800,000 a year from the Water Agency for the county make a difference if the objective was just to fund a few more deputies? Of course, but that never was the issue. The problem has always been as County Administrator Robert Bendorf euphemistically says “the cost of doing business.” The issue is annually escalating unaffordable employee pension and health costs.

Since the Water Agency has assumed control of all revenues from the Bullards operation this has created a conflict of interest for supervisors to serve on both boards. Is the Water Agency running the county now? Though the citizens voted to start the Agency and backed the bonds issued to fund construction of Bullards Bar Dam are Yuba County citizens now being dumped like an unwanted pet by the rich Agency?

A Board of Supervisors serving just the county could do so part-time at a far reduced salary from their current pay. Directors of the Water Agency elected independently could be reduced to five from their current seven, also saving funds. More importantly, it would stop the supervisors from double-dipping and from conflicts of interest.

The lack of transparency, manipulation and self-dealing doesn’t smell right. There is a lack of checks and balances as well as no accountability.

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