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LAFCo meets with districts, town

DAN FOSCALINA

Offering kudos to area special districts and the Town of Truckee in their handling of the consolidation issue, Nevada County Local Area Formation commissioners Thursday decided to postpone action on the town’s Sphere of Influence request during a meeting at Truckee Sanitary District.

In its unanimous decision, LAFCo encouraged the town and special districts to meet in an informal setting and decide if a consolidation study has merit. Whatever the outcome of that forum, LAFCo, the town and the special districts will proceed from there.

Laura Duncan, LAFCo chair, said she was impressed at the initiative representatives from all sides – the town, special districts and the public – have taken in regard to the consolidation issue.

“You people in Truckee have an understanding of what you need to do,” Duncan told the audience. “The Truckee area is going to hold meetings and make room for everyone at the table (to speak).”

LAFCo Commissioner and TSD board member Ron Sweet said, “Special district and town officials will talk until it is out of their system and the public will talk until it is out of their system.”

Pat Sutton, LAFCo commissioner and TSD board member, said town and district officials might be close to resolving the issue based on comments made during the meeting.

“We have hit common ground (the districts and the town) on LAFCo throwing the ball back to us.”

LAFCo Executive Director S.R. Jones said during a Feb. 27 meeting the commission, in tackling the town’s request to initiate the sphere, believed a consolidation study was in order.

“Since that time there has been a lot of discussion on this issue,” Jones said, adding she has met with town and district officials to discuss the format a study might take.

Jones recommended the commission continue with the sphere of influence prior to initiating a study, recognize the town and special district’s request to defer action and allow LAFCo staff participate in the informal meetings.

“My recommendation is to reflect this movement,” Jones said. “I think it is important for LAFCo to allow time for these meetings to occur.”

Jones also said in researching the issue she determined the study would be less costly if all affected agencies act together, utilizing an executive committee, consultant and LAFCo staff.

Limiting the number of study alternatives is also important. “We would need to limit spending on chasing issues that aren’t valid,” Jones told the commission.

Finally, a study would entail phasing, such as first identifying scope and timing and then looking at each option individually, Jones said. Hiring a private, outside consultant was another consideration.

As for the cost, Jones said based on the number of agencies involved in Truckee’s case, “We are looking at $60,000 to $70,000 based on other LAFCo studies.”

Audience members, town representatives, district officials and commissioners asked one question: Who would foot the bill?

Jones explained state legislation is being debated that, if passed, could set up a grant-type funding mechanism where monies would be doled out to study maximizing the efficiencies of government.

Commissioner Fran Grattan said as Nevada County has given LAFCo $300,000 to fund a $1.8 million budget, she doesn’t see the study being funded by the county.

“If we have not resolved the funding issue, it is difficult to make a decision on which way to go,” Grattan said. “Hopefully, by the end of (the meetings) there would be an idea as to how broad this study would be.”

Trying to alleviate concerns of a study concluding from the start that consolidation is essential, Jones said initiating a study does not necessarily mean action will be taken. “It may make recommendations to change or stay the same,” she said.

Should the study conclude some sort of change is warranted, the recommendations would need to be initiated by affected agencies, by citizen petition or by LAFCo itself – the latter being subjected to higher legal standards, Jones said.

Sweet said the workshop forum is the ideal place for the study issue to be hashed out, and it was his belief that LAFCo should pay for the study.

“The workshop is the proper place to start to see if we have to fund a study. It should be an impartial study and it would be funded by LAFCo, which is the proper entity to pay for it,” Sweet said. “We can eliminate a real bullet, however, if we can settle this in the workshop.”

Commissioner Mark Johnson said, “I would like to move forward. I think LAFCo should be a major participant in the funding of this should we decide to go forward.”

Sutton said a funding discussion would be appropriate only after the workshop occurs.

“The town is struggling with money, the county is worse and the special district don’t want to fund it. This would be appropriate after we determine if a study needs to be conducted,” she said.

Truckee resident Rolf Godon said the workshop idea only delays the study, thus delaying looking at the possibility of better serving town residents.

“The question is ‘Can we get more efficiencies that are less costly?'” Godon said. “The idea of putting off this study is another way of putting off looking at something that has been on our community plate for years.”

Ron Hemig, Truckee-Donner Public Utility District board president, said comments made during the meeting mirrored the sentiments of the TDPUD board. He reiterated Jones’ recommendations, although he added cooperation on a study needs to be of equal authority between affected agencies and he warned against a study having a predisposition of consolidation.

“We are coming around to a process that we are all comfortable with,” Hemig said.

Jerry Gilmore of the Truckee Sanitary District agreed with Jones’ recommendations and read a letter from the TSD stating its position.

Gilmore said TSD believes the study should be separated from the sphere, the timing of a study is not now, a merger with the town would adversely affect TSD customer service, TSD will not provide funding for the study, Truckee area residents should be able to vote on the issue and the study should be postponed until all affected parties can meet.

Geoff Stevens of the Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District said, “We are in favor of deferring any action until we can all get together and talk.”

Truckee Fire Protection District First Assistant Chief Mike Terwilliger agreed with the recommendations to LAFCo and reiterated separating the study from the sphere request and deferring action until all officials can meet.

Neil Eskind, special counsel to the Truckee-Tahoe Airport District, said the district is a Placer County agency and as such should be left out of the consolidation meetings.

“We are a Placer County special district that happens to include a portion of Nevada County,” Eskind told the commission. “Supervisors and LAFCo in Placer County have not expressed any interest in changing the organization of the airport district.

“We would prefer being left out of any meetings you might have because we would rather spend the money in other ways.”

TTAD’s General Manager Peter Soderquist, however, amended the position, stating the district would participate in those meetings.

Breeze Cross, former town councilman, said he believed the town has a lot of important tasks ahead and therefore should not tackle consolidation at this time.

“I think the town has got a real plateful in terms of solving problems in front of it,” Cross said. “To embark on consolidation study today would take away from the town’s ability to resolve other issues.”

Commissioners voted 5-0 in keeping consolidation separate from the sphere of influence request, allowing affected parties to meet in an open forum. In a second motion, also unanimously approved, commissioners voted to keep the study separate from sphere studies between the town and special districts.


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