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Charter status possible for Auburn

Future workshops review city services, offer citizens information
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Workshops scheduled for January will look into city services and explore the option of charter status for Auburn. At a City Council meeting Monday council members discussed the possibility of adopting a charter law rather than general law status. Charter cities are different from general law cities in that they are not completely regulated by the state legislature, which could save cities hundreds of thousands of dollars in prevailing wage costs, according to city documents. “A charter city derives its power directly from the state constitution, subject to only two limitations — any limits stated in the local voter-approved charter and any state legislation on subjects the courts deem to be ‘matters of statewide concern’ rather than ‘municipal affairs,’” according to city documents. This means the city of Auburn could have more power than the state in matters concerning Auburn. In a unanimous motion City Council members voted to hold public workshops beginning in January to measure the city’s service levels, their costs and how well they can continue in the future. The workshops would also involve discussions on whether or not charter status would enhance services. City documents state that 118 out of California’s 481 cities are charter cities. Roseville and Grass Valley currently have charter status, but all other cities in Nevada, Placer and El Dorado counties are general law cities. All of the state’s larger cities have charter status, according to city documents. An advantage of charter status listed in city documents is avoiding current prevailing wage requirements for locally funded public works projects. Prevailing wage is a minimum hourly rate paid to construction workers on these types of projects. These wage requirements are published every quarter by the California Department of Industrial Relations. California Assembly Bill 2537 currently provides a prevailing wage exemption for volunteers involved in public works projects. The exemption sunsets in January 2012 and may or may not be extended, according to city documents. Councilman Kevin Hanley expressed concern about volunteer projects such as Project Auburn, an annual one-day work program in Auburn completely reliant on volunteers. These projects would be forced to end if AB 2537 is not renewed or made permanent, because the city couldn’t afford to pay workers prevailing wage. “The threat is if that law is not extended or made permanent, then we couldn’t do Project Auburn, because in theory we would have to pay everyone prevailing wage,” Hanley said. With charter status Auburn could avoid paying volunteers prevailing wage. It could also pay workers involved in Auburn-funded programs, such as the sewer system, the Placer County market rate rather than a rate dictated by the state, according to Hanley. A carpenter classified as a master installer in Placer County makes a basic hourly rate of $29.27 under prevailing wage. A parking and highway improvement painter could make as much as $29.44 under prevailing wage, according to the Department of Industrial Relations website. According to city documents the city could have saved between $600,000 and $750,000 on the upgrade of the city’s wastewater treatment facility had it not been a prevailing wage project. According to city documents, a disadvantage of charter status is that a charter can be amended by only 15 percent of the city’s voters, leading to special interest proposals. Councilman Mike Holmes said he would be more comfortable with the idea of charter status after reviewing how it affects a city smaller than or equal to the size of Auburn. City Manager Bob Richardson said he recommends Auburn review the services it offers, the price of those services and how well those services can be maintained in future years and then review how a charter status would affect them. Auburn resident Dan Sokol said he supports smaller government, and charter status might be a way to do that. Sokol said he thinks if charter status is approved, the charter should be a “carbon copy” of the city’s current organization. In other business City Council: · Eliminated the relaxation of temporary business sign regulations. · Approved the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan. · Authorized the Auburn Fire Department to abate properties notified as public nuisances in the city’s weed abatement program. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com