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County seeks to secure funds to save cities
Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
Issue 03, Volume 18.
The board approved its 2014 Legislative Platform in a 5-0 vote that followed renewal of one-year contracts with two of the county's three Sacramento-based lobbying firms -- Cline & Duplissea, and Michael Y. Corbett & Associates.
The Cline contract is $50,000, while the Corbett agreement is $36,000. The county's "lead" consulting agency, Merksamer, Parrinello, Gross & Leoni, signed a three-year $144,000 contract with the board previously.
Jim Gross and John Moffatt of Merksamer, Parrinello were on hand to answer supervisors' questions during today's meeting.
Board Chairman Jeff Stone told the lobbyists that one of the top concerns for the county is preserving the nascent city of Jurupa Valley, which incorporated in July 2011. The municipality has been operating at a deficit since that time due to re-appropriation of vehicle license fee revenue by the Legislature and governor to fund public safety realignment programs. The take- away also hurt the relatively new cities of Eastvale, Menifee and Wildomar, but Jurupa Valley was hardest hit.
"If ever there was a time we needed the success of our lobbying team, it's this year," Stone said. "For Jurupa Valley, it's the fourth quarter and we're at the two-minute warning. They have filed for disincorporation. They need $16 to $17 million to prevent this debacle."
The consultants were unable to predict what might take place, but acknowledged that Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, and other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were aware of the city's predicament and trying to drum up support for a financial infusion.
Another top legislative priority over which each board member expressed concern was public safety realignment funding, particularly money to expand or build detention facilities, as the county wrestles with limited jail space and too many detainees -- more than 9,000 of whom were released early last year because there weren't enough inmate beds available.
Sheriff Stan Sniff and other county officials blame the overflow on the Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011, whichrequired counties to take over housing a variety of offenders previously handled by the state. Prior to the legislation, county detention facilities were at roughly 80 percent capacity. Within four months of the bill becoming law, they were at 100 percent, according to the county's figures.
"We're in a state of emergency when it comes to housing prisoners and dealing with recidivism as a result of these offenders being released back into neighborhoods," Stone said. "Some of these people just can't be rehabilitated, and we're putting them back into society."
The chairman suggested that an alternative to the state disbursing funds is to suspend the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires rigorous scrutiny of the impact of construction projects. The supervisor said shelving CEQA to enable fast-tracking jail building would cut project durations in half.
According to Moffatt, the governor has proposed up to $500 million in additional funding to offset counties' realignment costs, but it remains unclear whether the Legislature will fall into line. There are also moves afoot to mandate that offenders sentenced to 10 or more years behind bars automatically go to prison. Currently, depending on the category of conviction defined by the realignment legislation, some convicts can serve out multi- decade sentences in local jails. Other items on the county's legislative advocacy platform include support for:
-- "Infrastructure Financing Districts," which permit the use of revenue gleaned from year-to-year increases in property taxes to be used for public benefit projects, such as low-income housing, parks, libraries and road improvements. Since the phasing out of redevelopment agencies by the state three years ago, localities have found it difficult to finance economic development initiatives.
-- policies and programs that enhance foreign trade;
-- a "water bond" to fund restoration of the Salton Sea;
-- legislation enabling the creation of more composting sites, thereby increasing green waste recycling and reducing demands for landfill space;
-- lowering the Cal Fire administration fee charged the county under its contract with the state fire agency; and
-- adding a military veteran denotation on qualifying drivers' licenses.
The legislative platform generally opposed any effort to raise taxes or "impose additional mandates" on programs that counties are required to administer on behalf of the state unless there's commensurate funding appropriated.
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