Where did the money go? | SierraSun.com

Where did the money go?

By, Michael S. Terwilliger, Fire Chief, Truckee Fire Protection District

Big surprise, California is in another budget crisis. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that most of you have heard this old song and dance before and you probably are getting tired of hearing it now. Heck, we heard this in the early 1990’s, heard it somewhere in between, and we are hearing it again. How bad can it be, I mean after all, we have survived to this point right? Wrong!

This time I am going to tell you to watch out. That’s right, heads up. This is the runaway train coming down the track and it is picking up speed.

You have probably noticed the confrontation between the governor and the legislative bodies concerning the Vehicle License Fee (VLF). It is somewhat confusing but it represents $4 billion. I don’t want to pay higher vehicle fees but I sure enjoy the services my town offers me, including comprehensive law enforcement, local planning, and road maintenance to name a few.

If VLF is not backfilled, it looks like around $500,000 yanked away from the town. Can we survive that? Sure, they have been fiscally prudent, but that is not the end of the story.

Another little pearl waiting in the wings is the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund (ERAF) shift of property tax our districts, counties, and towns suffered in 1993.

Around 10 to 15 percent of their annual property tax was taken ($ 4 billion) and given to the state. For example, a small district like Squaw Valley Public Services District has donated around $2.5 million to the state so far. An odd twist to the shift then was not taking the money from multi-county districts like the Truckee Fire Protection District.

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Today instead of fighting to have ERAF backfilled for the agencies hit 10 years ago, we are now looking at an ERAF shift for multi-county districts as well.

The numbers tossed out by the Governor are 18 to 22 percent.

That would equate to as much as $660,000 taken from this fire district. ‘Big deal,’ you say, they can just suck it up and do the job.

I guess we will, but think about this. The public utility district, the sanitary district, the hospital district, the airport district, and many more are all bi-county districts. Guess what, they get the 18 to 22 percent shift as well.

The result will be a rather large chunk of your local tax dollars drifting into the hands of the state for ERAF. Now, I am in support of education, but the sad fact is the money that goes away will only replace that stolen already by the governor, open the door for additional general fund shifts from education, and education will still be 40 bucks short at the end of the month, just like now.

The “fiscal adjustments” I listed above are the tip of the iceberg when you talk about how the state is going about the business of balancing the budget.

How about undesignated reserves from enterprise districts?

I can’t look in my crystal ball and predict the outcome of this crisis. Perhaps there will be fewer fire engines and ambulances, less police officers, higher utility bills, crowded classrooms and slower emergency rooms. I just don’t know, but I have a bad feeling this time.

There is just no more money to go around and the result can’t be good. But I will tell you something I do know. After this is over, we will still have a bloated state government devouring your property tax dollars, looking for more, and unresponsive to local services where the rubber meets the road. History is our greatest teacher and it is best to pay attention.

If you have stayed with me this long then here is one thing I ask you to do. Contact your representatives and tell them what you think. Don’t let them operate in a vacuum. Make them understand your expectations. Perhaps they should be fiscally responsible and fiscally fair? It is all we can do for now and the train I mentioned above? It is fast running out of track

Honorable Thomas “Rico” Oller

California State Senate

State Capitol Building

Sacramento, Calif. 95814

Honorable Tim Leslie

California State Assembly

State Capitol Building

Sacramento, Calif. 95814

Michael S. Terwilliger is fire chief of the Truckee Fire Protection District.