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LAFCo executive discusses role of public agency

S.R. Jones

We’ve all heard a great deal about the recent discussions regarding Nevada County LAFCo and its role in looking for ways to simplify government structure in the Truckee area.

As LAFCo executive director, I would like to offer some clarification and background so that Truckee residents can be informed about what’s being proposed (a study), and what might come of it.

Truckee residents, having recently been through the town’s incorporation process, probably have a better understanding of LAFCo’s overall role than many others. However, it seems best to start with the basics – by explaining what LAFCo does and why it does it.

What is LAFCo? LAFCo is the Local Agency Formation Commission, an independent public agency that oversees the creation of local governments (cities and special districts) and changes in their functions and boundaries. You might say that LAFCo is a planning commission for local government.

LAFCos were established in each of California’s counties by the Legislature in the 1960s, a time of tremendous population growth. Premature and unplanned development created inefficient, expensive systems of delivering public services using various small units of local government. In response to the concern that local governments were acting only in their own self-interest, the state set up a LAFCo in each county to balance the interests of each government against the needs of the public as a whole.

The Nevada County LAFCo has seven members – two county members, two city members, two special district members, and one at-large public member. It’s important to understand that when they sit at the LAFCo table, commissioners make independent decisions in the interest of the county as a whole, and are sometimes required to act on issues which may work to the disadvantage of the agency that appointed them.

LAFCos have four primary objectives:

— Encourage orderly growth and development,

— Encourage logical boundaries,

— Ensure that affected populations receive efficient and accountable government services; and

— Preserve agricultural and open space lands.

These objectives are the basis for LAFCo action. LAFCo coordinates logical and timely boundary changes, prepares a sphere of influence (future service area) for each city and special district, and conducts special studies that review ways to reorganize, simplify and streamline governmental structure. It is in an effort to fulfill this last function that LAFCo is considering whether there are ways to simplify services in the Truckee area.

What kind of study are we talking about?

LAFCo is proposing to look at the government structure in the area to see if there might be ways to provide service more economically, while preserving the public accessibility of government agencies that Truckee residents demand.

A study would lay out scenarios for combining various government units in the area, and see if improvements would result. For instance, would a single unit of government be better able to assess the needs and coordinate services in the area? What if several single-purpose districts were combined into a multi-service district? Are there redundant administrative functions which could be simplified, and would that result in a lower service costs? Would public access and accountability be improved by reducing the number of government boards in the area? Or, given the constraints of geography, political boundaries and communities of interest, is the current configuration of government agencies the optimum arrangement?

Costs of such a study are not cheap, generally $50,000 to $75,000, depending upon the scope and complexity of the issues. Typically, consultants are used in order to gain their expertise, and also, to provide independence to the analysis and recommendations.

It would be appropriate for such a study to be funded by all affected parties (and the Town has indicated a willingness to participate). LAFCo will also be exploring other sources of funding, such as state grant funds under recently introduced legislation.

If the study recommends change, how can it happen?

A proposal to change the current structure of government could come from three different sources: the voters (by petition), an affected government agency (such as a district, the county, the town), or, under certain circumstances, LAFCo itself.

LAFCo would analyze the proposal to see if it would (1) reduce the cost or improve the quality of service, and (2) promote public access and accountability. The affect of the proposal on other agencies and the community itself would be considered, and the Commission would hold one or more public hearings before making any decisions.

If LAFCo approves a proposal to restructure the government agencies, the matter would be subject to an election (unless all boards were in consent and there was no voter interest in election).

The Commission will discuss the scope and focus of a study when it meets in Truckee in April (on the 17th). All LAFCo meetings are open to the public, and you should feel free to attend and voice your thoughts on this issue. It is important for the Commission to understand the concerns of the Truckee area residents. Also, there will be many more opportunities for the public to comment should a study recommend action.

The LAFCo office is in Nevada City at 950 Maidu Avenue (zip code – 95959). The phone number is 265-7180.

Conclusion

Agencies which have the day-to-day responsibility of providing services do not necessarily have the means or expertise to take an overview of the entire area, or the vision to consider different long-term approaches. LAFCo is the one agency that was created to take a long-term, regional approach to the problem of providing services – to take a fresh look at the situation and to determine if there is a better way.

Nowadays, taxpayers have become more conscious of government spending and are demanding improved service at lower cost. If there are better way to provide service to the Truckee area residents, wouldn’t we all like to know about it?


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