North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

August 2, 2001

The year in budget highlights

Tax rebates in the mail

Meeting place threatened

Visitor inquiries rise -- again

Strom-Martin water bill signed

EPIC sues PL over Clean Water

Centerville Beach to BLM

Human Rights bill passes

Sunny Brae THP revised again


The year in budget highlights

With the end of the fiscal year June 30, local, county and state governments began the annual parade of budgets: A time for showing where priorities are set, which infrastructure projects were funded and to whom raises were granted.

Early in the process many entities were eyeing the large state surplus -- the one that began shrinking as the full impact of the energy crisis became known. Once again, belts were being tightened from Sacramento to Rio Dell.

Listed below are some of the places where governments decided to put what money they had. (Blue Lake and Trinidad did not have information available by press time.)

In general, municipal and state surpluses are down or have disappeared entirely. Humboldt County was forced to order 5 percent across-the-board cuts in order to fund necessary services. Current service levels were maintained, but in some cases barely. That's made for some hard decisions.

The state came to an agreement on its budget just last week, a month after the document was to take effect.

Ironically, the state budget has many projects pushed for by area legislators; it appears rural counties like Humboldt may have won in this year's state budget game.

But for some cities and the county, this year is one where budget savings were looked for wherever possible. Several long-term issues like deferred road maintenance remain unaddressed. Without additional funding, it's unclear when they will be.

For those governments, the future can be summed up in one word, said 3rd District Supervisor John Woolley:

"Tough."

 STATE OF CALIFORNIA: $79.2 billion

Across-the-board reductions in funding for natural resources and transportation
$19.3 million in tax relief for users of propane, the price of which has skyrocketed with the energy crisis
$18 million in assistance to rural law enforcement
$8 million in rebates and tax relief for farmers
$275,000 for Humboldt County ballparks
$30 million to combat methamphetamine problem

"This has turned out to be a very difficult budget year, but I am basically satisfied with the final outcome."
-- 1st District Assemblymember Virginia Strom-Martin


HUMBOLDT COUNTY DRAFT BUDGET
Final expected in October: $183.7 million

5 percent across-the-board budget cuts
4 percent pay raises for county employees
$90 million for the Department of Health and Human Services
$15.6 million for sheriff services, including the jail
$2.3 million in supplemental budgetary requests still to be decided

"This year it was a status quo budget without a lot of additional enhancements."
-- 4th District Supervisor Bonnie Neely

 EUREKA: $37.2 million

$7.2 million into drinking water system
$2.3 for Harris Street rehabilitation
$1.5 million for roads
$1.8 million surplus
35 percent increase in energy costs absorbed primarily by general fund

"The priority was to maintain basic levels of service for the city going into the budget."
-- Eureka City Manager Dave Tyson


FORTUNA: $5.6 million

25 percent estimated increase in fuel costs; 50 percent estimated increase in utility costs
$3.3 million in capital improvement projects
$15,000 surplus, compared with $250,000 last year

"We're continuing to make substantial investments in improving the city's parks, in street paving projects and in upgrades to the water and sewer systems."
-- Fortuna City Manager Dale Nieman

ARCATA: $27.7 million

$2.5 million for roads
$2.5 million for low-income housing programs
$3.2 million in upgrades and repairs to sewer
$75,000 for two rangers to patrol city parks

"It was a very tight budget year, but we were able to do some deferred maintenance"
-- Finance Director Janet Luzzi

 


Tax rebates in the mail[Refund chart]

The first wave of checks have been mailed out pursuant to President Bush's tax rebate plan, but not everyone will be getting them at once -- or at all.

The checks are being mailed out over the next 10 weeks. When you receive yours depends on the last two digits of your Social Security number (see chart).

If you qualify for one, that is. According to the nonpartisan Citizens for Tax Justice, the poorest 26 percent of income tax filers won't get a check because they didn't pay income taxes. Another 13 percent will only receive partial rebates. In California alone, 3.7 million filers will not get checks.

And while Congress and the president have been hailing the rebate checks as an economic stimulus, putting money in consumers' pockets isn't cheap. The treasury unofficially estimates that mailing the checks will cost the government $80 million.

 



Meeting place threatened

"When you're first in recovery, you don't know what to do with yourself," said Jimmy VanMeter, Jr.

That's why VanMeter runs the Meeting Place at 607 Summer St., Eureka. It is a space for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts to learn to socialize without the help of mood-altering substances. Started in 1999 by VanMeter's late father, who was himself a alcoholic and compulsive gambler, the Meeting Place serves between 500 and 1,000 people a month.

"We do dances, a clean and sober campout. We even have karaoke night," VanMeter said.

But the Meeting Place is in trouble. VanMeter said he has been putting between $800 and $1,000 of his own money into the establishment every month to cover costs.

The organization is under the nonprofit umbrella of the Trinity Baptist Church in Arcata, but has had a slow start obtaining grant funding.

VanMeter is turning to the community for help. People who are interested in the space -- because they need a clean and sober place to hang out, to donate or both -- are encouraged to visit. The place has a special meaning for VanMeter, who said he sees it as his father's legacy and a valuable community service.

"I took over this place because my father's last wish was that it be kept going. Now I'm doing it because it's neat to see people progress."



Visitor inquiries rise -- again

High gas prices and the deflation of dot-com industry don't seem to be hurting Humboldt County's tourist industry.

Requests for visitor information are running 25 percent ahead of last year, marking the second year of record growth, according to numbers released last month by the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

That interest is reflected in increased numbers of people staying here. The Index of Economic Activity, put together once a month by Humboldt State University Professor Steve Hackett, shows a 4.1 percent increase in hotel occupancy rates during May. That marks the best May for tourism Humboldt County has had since 1998.



Strom-Martin water bill signed

Gov. Davis signed a bill this week that will examine the ways in which water resources across the state are administered and which systems work best.

The bill, authored by Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, was originally aimed directly at the Sonoma County Water Agency. The agency, managed by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, has control over water resources that come from Humboldt County.

Strom-Martin has suggested restructuring the agency to make it more independent and allow more input from people affected by its actions. The bill, which requires the legislative analyst to compare different ways of managing water resources, was supported by environmental groups, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and the Marin Municipal Water District.



EPIC sues PL over Clean Water

Using a federal law usually associated with factories and sewage treatment plants, the Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville is suing Pacific Lumber over dirty water.

The case focuses on ditches, pipes and culverts on PL's land in the Bear Creek watershed. EPIC claims that sediment and herbicides carried through these channels by stormwater runoff constitutes a "point source" of pollution. "Point source" means that the source of pollution can be narrowed down to one geographic point.

That would require PL to get a permit for discharge under the federal Clean Water Act.

Timber harvesting activities have not been considered point sources of pollution, but they should be, said Michael Lozeau of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. Lozeau, who is representing EPIC in the suit, said that "non-point sources of sediment aren't covered by the Clean Water Act, but culverts, ditches and erosion channels have been defined as point sources."

PL spokesperson Mary Bullwinkel said such an interpretation of the Clean Water Act would affect everyone with runoff, including homeowners. The company plans on challenging EPIC's contentions in court.



Centerville Beach to BLM

The Bureau of Land Management is poised to acquire another 40 acres of oceanfront property in Humboldt County -- but this time it's from another part of the federal government.

A House Armed Services subcommittee authorized the transfer of the Centerville Beach Naval Facility to the BLM July 27. The base, used as an undersea surveillance station for 35 years, was decommissioned in 1993.

The transfer was scheduled be taken up by the full House Armed Services Committee Aug. 1.



Human Rights bill passes

"For over 30 years the state of California has authorized counties to create commissions on human relations," said Sen. Wesley Chesbro in a press release. "The time has come to update the law to recognize that such commission properly have a broader range of interests."

The law was in fact updated July 22, when Gov. Davis signed Chesbro's bill dealing with the commissions.

The bill expands the jurisdiction of human rights commissions to include relations between people of different ancestry, economic status, civic interest, gender, gender orientation, physical or mental abilities and marital status.

The Humboldt County Human Rights Commission experienced a setback earlier this year when it was barred from observing protests on Pacific Lumber lands. In March the Board of Supervisors voted to prohibit the commission from observing the protests because of liability and insurance questions. It is unclear whether this bill will affect that decision.



Sunny Brae THP revised again

Sierra Pacific's plans to log on land near the Arcata neighborhood of Sunny Brae have been delayed due to action by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The board filed a notice on the Sunny Brae THP requesting that additional erosion control be included in the plan. The California Department of Forestry, which ultimately has the power to approve the plan, agreed.

The nonconcurrence refers to a section of California's Forest Practice Rules that is just a year old. The relatively new rule states that active erosion sites have to be identified and remediation performed, where feasible.

Sierra Pacific had already looked at how it could avoid creating more sediment but hadn't identified all the erosion sites, said Bill Snyder, deputy chief of forest practices for CDF. Snyder said in a telephone interview from Santa Rosa that "erosion sites on roads and culverts had already been identified and would have been repaired," but other naturally occurring erosion had not yet been studied.

Sierra Pacific has already made substantial changes to the plan to address neighbors' concerns, including the use of pilot cars to accompany logging trucks and an agreement not to use herbicides.

Mark Lovelace, spokesperson for the Sunny Brae-Arcata Neighborhood Alliance, said that while the plan isn't perfect, he was "very happy with some of these results."


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