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Storm brews over study of Tahoe Donner utility plans

Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra Sun Cars descend Northwoods Blvd. under a sky of electrical wires.
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A request for $135,000 to study the cost of putting utilities underground in the Tahoe Donner subdivision has ballooned into a rancorous dispute between the Truckee Town Council and the Tahoe Donner Association board of directors over parcel fees. At its June 3 meeting, the council is scheduled to hear the funding request from Tahoe Donner once more and decide whether the utility study can be paid using money generated by a special service charge on parcels in the subdivision. The council will also decide the future of special service assessments [TSSA] for subdivisions across town. At question is whether special service funds specifically allocated for road maintenance and repair in the Tahoe Donner subdivision can be used to fund the underground feasibility study. Darren Shaw, general manager of the Tahoe Donner Association, said that the town council was contradicting itself by indicating it would bar the funds from being used for a utility survey, but at the same time saying that the funds could be used for other unrelated projects such as a third Tahoe Donner access, traffic calming, road drainage or guardrails. The Tahoe Donner Association’s special meeting on May 27 about the utility study became heated as a boardmember questioned the ethics of members of the town council. The association even hinted at litigation against the town if the funds are not made available for the study.

“If the board still wants to pursue the TSSA funds, then the next step, I believe, is litigation involving the town of Truckee,” said Legal counsel Dave Gravell. Tahoe Donner Association Boardmember Jim McCann said, “If the council ignores us or turns us down, I think that there will be consequences that we will not have to stir up.”Currently, the road maintenance program only uses about half of the TSSA funding, which is assessed to each Tahoe Donner parcel, leaving an excess of almost $300,000 per year, according to Truckee Public Works Director Dan Wilkins. Developed parcels are charged $95 a year and undeveloped parcels are assessed $70 per year. Currently the fund holds about $1.3 million in excess, and the association board wants to use some of the excess for the upcoming year to fund the study.Estimates on the cost of placing the subdivision’s utilities underground are approximately $100 million, according to a Tahoe Donner Association letter to the town. In order to put the speculation on the project’s cost to rest, the Tahoe Donner Association recently solicited proposals from 12 firms that conduct feasibility studies. Of the three responses, Tahoe Donner chose a firm and is waiting on a way to fund the $135,000 estimated cost for the study.The town council, meanwhile, is leery of opening up TSSA funding, which is not the homeowners association’s money but the money of the individual taxpayers in Tahoe Donner, to uses other than road-related projects. The council also took note that Tahoe Donner has not made funding the study a budgetary priority of the homeowners association.

The TSSA assessment was a joint creation of the Tahoe Donner board and the town council to provide a higher level of road maintenance program than the rest of the town. The tax came partly because of drainage, weather and soil conditions that are unique to Tahoe Donner, but also because Tahoe Donner residents desired better maintained roads than other parts of town.The Tahoe Donner association board has criticized the town council’s hesitancy to release the funds for the study because they believe that the special service tax has already been opened up to new uses. The tax was used for snow removal funding before being reallocated to road maintenance projects. The association board argues that that first change leaves the funding open to other uses.The larger question is what will happen to the excess TSSA funds that the town is not spending for road-related projects. Besides going to the underground utility study, and possibly even to the underground utility project, Wilkins said that the assessment of $95 could be cut in half, and the increased service could continue. While their is a surplus of funds, a chunk of that excess will be used when the Tahoe Donner subdivision’s roads come up for repaving within the next five years, said Wilkins.Another option, is to use the excess money to fund road-related projects that otherwise would not be completed in the subdivision, such as improved drainage, guardrails and, if the council approves, a third entrance and exit into the subdivision. Even though these projects may diverge from the current road maintenance program, they are still road projects – unlike the utility study, said Wilkins.



“It’s an extreme stretch to consider the [underground utility study] a road project,” Wilkins said.Mayor Josh Susman said that the TSSA money is taxpayer money and not association revenue, and said that the council felt uncomfortable in changing the scope of the funds which could lead to other requests on the money. He also noted that the money may be needed when Measure A – which puts road maintenance responsibilities for backbone roads, such as Northwoods Boulevard, on the town – runs out in 2010.Check it out:The town will decide the breadth and scope of the TSSA funds at their June 3 meeting at 6 p.m. in the council chambers at town hall.


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