Another View: What should we do now?

Another View
By: Wally Reemelin
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Budget deficits, furloughed workers, and reduced tax revenues plague our local governments, but our elected representatives can’t agree on how to balance the budget and fix some systemic problems. As a long-time taxpayer advocate and president of the League of Placer County Taxpayers, I wish to offer three simple steps that Placer County can take to begin the process of reducing the county budget while offering some tax relief to homeowners and other taxpayers. Cut executive salaries: California’s governor makes approximately $174,000 a year. With our current budget mess, almost everyone would agree it’s a tough job. Why should over a dozen Placer County executives make more than the governor? Are their jobs harder? More important? Let’s start to control Placer County’s budget by capping salaries at $174,000, so no county executive makes more than our governor. Let us begin a dialog on this important issue. Reduce personnel: After 25 years of service to Placer County, our District Attorney Brad Fenocchio is retiring and was reminiscing about the number of staff prosecutors growing from 10 to 40 in that time. Placer County was the fastest growing county in the state in the 1990s, but our population just doubled in the last 25 years. Why do we need four times the number of attorneys? There may be good justification for this increase, but every department should compare its growth with the growth of our population. Government bureaucracy may have become bloated during the good years and now needs some trimming as we encounter difficult times. Tax rebate: It doesn’t make sense to offer a tax rebate when governments are trying to balance their budgets. However, Placer County will be receiving a windfall of millions of new dollars annually starting after 2012. In the 1960s, taxpayers passed a bond issue to finance The American River Project, which built hydroelectric dams and storage lakes. The county and Placer County Water Agency will be sharing receipts from the operation of those hydroelectric plants. With the bonds paid off, this revenue could amount to $100 million yearly. Since taxpayer/ratepayers paid for these plants, shouldn’t they share in the revenue? Sharing this money doesn’t impact the current funding of either PCWA or the county. Revenues from power generation are a whole new source of income. Placer, PCWA, and homeowners should each receive a share of the profit – perhaps one-third each. Placer County could identify recipients of this largess using the homeowner exemption clause of one’s property taxes. If one third of the receipts equaled $24 million and there were 80,000 homes using the homeowner’s exemption on their property taxes, each homeowner would receive a rebate from the previous year’s receipts – about $300. Two thirds of this revenue would remain with Placer County and PCWA. This money should be applied to water-related issues in the county and not tossed into their general funds. To insure this takes place, both parties must pass ordinances restricting the funds to those purposes. These three proposals are just a beginning. More needs to be done to correct long-term problems that have accumulated over the years. Not a time for finger pointing or blaming. Elected representatives should put aside differences and cooperate to fix county budget problems. Wally Reemelin is president of the League of Placer County Taxpayers, Auburn