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Calavaras Seeks Special Legislation For Butte Fire Relief

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San Andreas, CA — Attempting to deflect dehabilitating fiscal impacts from the Butte Fire away from its limited coffers, the Calaveras County supervisors are asking two of the Mother Lode’s top lawmakers to introduce special legislation.

At its Tuesday meeting, the board plans to send letters to State Senator Tom Berryhill and Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, requesting that they act on the county’s behalf to appropriate state monies through a special amendment of certain revenue and taxation code sections that will allow the county to receive compensation for the loss of property taxes due to the wildfire. Over the past 25 years, it has become a practice for members of the state legislature to do this in order to help counties and other local governmental agencies who, through earthquakes, wildfires and other disasters, have suffered significant hits to these revenues.

Specifically, the supervisors are seeking an appropriation that would cover loss impacts not only to the general, road and solid waste funds, but also to local fire, street and lighting, and cemetery districts as well as the Air Pollution Control District. The draft letter states that the assessed value of destroyed structures in the county is estimated as over $51 million; the value for land loss, roughly another $2.7 million. According to county staff calculations, this equates to about $539,000 in lost property taxes to the county. The figure does not include special assessments; losses to damaged but not destroyed structures; or debt service to voter-approved bond measures.

As current estimates indicate that it will take more than a year to rebuild the affected areas, the board asks that the lawmakers request a property tax back-fill for the next three fiscal years; about $2 million in total.

The board is also requesting that Berryhill and Bigelow consider introducing legislation to include the county’s 2015 wildfires under a government code section that would allow a waiver of the county’s local cost share requirement under the state’s disaster assistance act. In their letter, the supervisors state their understanding is that such practices were common prior to the 2006 Great Recession, pointing out the local economy is still recovering from that calamity — due in part to having to bear one of the state’s highest declines in assessed property values — and that the county now faces significant additional fiscal impacts due to the Butte Fire.

Noted in the communication is that county officials and staff currently have a list of wildfire response and recovery projects that exceeds $10.7 million, not including debris removal, which in itself, may cost $50 million or more. The county’s cost share for these projects currently figures somewhere around $650,000. If not waived, the amount threatens to tap out the county’s general fund reserves that are needed to help cover essential public services. If introduced and passed, the legislation will waive the cost share for the county’s full list of projects and further ensure that the state office of emergency services (Cal OES) is also able to waive the local cost share for sheltering and debris removal under its auspices.

Along with extending the local disaster and health states of emergency due to the Butte Fire, the supervisors anticipate extending the county’s agreement with the California Conservation Corps (CCC) to provide critical services to the burn area. Since the initial agreement went into effect Oct. 19, the CCC has provided 60 workers on three crews to focus on erosion control and minimizing the potential sediment loss from winter storms; as part of the agreement, the county supplies lodging. On Nov. 2, the county signed an agreement with United Camps, Conferences and Retreats (UCCR) for the crews to stay at its Camp Lodestar location in Wilseyville through mid-month for an estimated $32,000. As the crews are now working through Nov. 29, the county looks to extend the UCCR contract for roughly an additional $43,000, to be paid from the Butte Fire Fund, with partial reimbursement through FEMA public assistance and CDAA funds.

The meeting will open to the public at 9 a.m. in the county government center’s supervisors chambers (891 Mountain Ranch Road), following an 8 a.m. closed session covering a personnel concern and potential property purchases related to the county’s Stagecoach Road bridge project.