Tightening the belt at the TRPA
Californias predicted $16 billion 2008-09 budget crisis could affect the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency as it will other state-funded offices.The bistate organization, which regulates a multitude of environmental practices in the Basin, is facing a decrease in revenue from application fees and less money from the state of Nevada.The agencys governing board discussed the issues Thursday during an all-day retreat in South Lake Tahoe.The TRPA has received fewer applications for Basin construction projects this year compared with last and thus raised about $300,000 less through application fees. Adding to the strain, the Nevada Legislature cut $73,156 from the agencys 2007-08 and 2008-09 operating budgets, forcing the TRPA to freeze three vacant positions. The agencys $12.3 million 2007-08 budget escaped cuts by the California Assembly, a fact not lost on TRPA Executive Director John Singlaub, who sees financial trouble ahead.Its miraculous we didnt get cut this year, Singlaub said Thursday. We dont expect that miracle to extend into next year, given the $16 billion California budget deficit.At the meeting, TRPA Deputy Executive Director Jerry Wells estimated the agency could lose an additional $500,000 from its coffers if California enacts proposed 10 percent across-the-board cuts to state agencies.Board members discussed a variety of possibilities to ease the almost-certain budget crunch to come. None of them, though, included cuts to the agencys core priorities: managing forest fuels, updating the regional plan, eradicating the lakes aquatic invasive species, implementing the next decade of the Environmental Improvement Program and updating shorezone ordinances.To help offset the projected $875,000 total shortfall in its 2008-09 budget, TRPA board members discussed closing the North Shore satellite office, shifting more responsibility to conservation districts and cutting TRPA staff.Given the possibility Californias budget morass could deepen as it has in just the past two months the TRPA could suffer even deeper cuts. Trimming costs to preserve critical environmental programs is the way to go.As heart-wrenching as they are, layoffs or furloughs, as board members termed it also should be considered.In addition to these measures, the board directed staff to examine ways to increase revenue. Members floated several ideas, which included charging filing fees for local, state and federal agencies, recouping legal expenses and charging for preapplication consultations.The agency, of course, lies between a rock and a hard place. It must continue to safeguard the Lake Tahoe environment, try not to alienate residents already fuming over bureaucratic regulations, and do it all with less money.Thats an unenviable task. But whatever the outcome, the TRPA must determine how to manage its budget without forcing residents to share the load.From the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the Sierra Suns sister newspaper in South Lake Tahoe.