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Calaveras County Road Funds Cut By $7.8 Million

California has scratched $6.8 million off the budget for the Angels Camp Highway 4 bypass project and will give Calaveras County $1 million less to spend on county roads in 2003-04.

Half of the $1 million would have provided for repair and replacement of heavy equipment, like graders, backhoes and trucks, Bob Kawasaki, county public works director, said. The other half would have provided for half of the county´s road improvement fund. The loss means the county can´t contract for paving on county-maintained roads.

“Those contractors do the things that (the county) can´t do, like overlay and chip seal,” Kawasaki said.

County road projects affected by the loss of funding would not have been decided until December of this year.

The $1 million cut is a combination of budget entries. In an effort to balance the 2003-2004 spending plan, the state withheld $515,000 of State Traffic Congestion Mitigation Program funds that the county depends on for its road improvement projects. It withheld $188 million of the program´s funds statewide from counties and cities.

In addition the state kept $156,000 of the same funds from Calaveras County in the 2002-2003 fiscal year, which added to the loss of funds for this year´s road budget.

“The state said they´ll repay us with interest in the 2005-2006 fiscal year,” Kawasaki said.

The state´s three month delay in implementing the increase in Vehicle License Fees cost the county $335,000 in revenue it had hoped to get. The controversial fee increase was approved by Gov. Gray Davis in June and kicks in in November.

In 1998, in the midst of an economic boom, vehicle license fees were reduced. As of January 2003, vehicle owners were only paying 32.5-percent of the fees. The state was paying the counties and cities the other 67.5-percent, as called for in the state constitution, said Jean Hurst, senior legislative analyst for the California State Association of Counties (CSAC).

During this year´s tight budget, lawmakers decided they couldn´t afford to make up that difference anymore and put the $5 billion cost back on the vehicle owners.

The Department of Motor Vehicles needed 90 days to implement the program. Within this time, counties lost money because the state was not paying. The three-month loss cost counties and cities $850 million.

CSAC negotiated with the state to pay the counties back by August 2006, Hurst said. State funding cuts also are impacting the much-anticipated Highway 4 bypass in Angels Camp.

The state will not have the $6.8 million to complete acquiring right of ways for the bypass.

To balance the budget, the state borrowed $1.5 billion from transportation funds, money that comes from gas taxes and is mandated to be used for transportation projects.

The right of way work was supposed to be complete at the end of November 2004, Scott Mass, project consultant, said. Now it looks like it will be completed in July 2005.

Bypass construction was expected to begin March 2005 with completion by June 2007. If funding is available in next year´s state budget, the project could begin construction in the spring of 2006, Maas said.

The state transportation money situation won´t change until next July, said George Dondero, the Council of Governments executive director. The council is the county´s regional transportation agency.

“My biggest concern is that Caltrans already began acquisition discussions with property owners,” Tim Shearer, Angels city administrator, said.

Some building tenants, in anticipation of a buy out, moved out and now there are vacancies that Shearer fears will go unfilled. Not knowing when the project will happen, finding tenants will be difficult, Shearer said.

“The city doesn´t want to have a shopping center where there´s property that can´t be rented out and it goes dormant, Shearer said. “It doesn´t look good.”

Other work on the Angels Camp project, such as design, will continue, Dondero said.

Dondero said he sent a letter to Caltrans asking to continue with right of way appraisals, even though they would need to be updated later, just so when the funding does become available the project can move forward quickly.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Vanessa Turner. For more Calaveras news, click: calaverasenterprise.com