If sheriff’s helo OK’d, question remains how to pay for it

City council enters labor negotiations, vies for Costco
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Toking through the notebook while wondering if the state legislature’s sudden warmth for legalizing pot — because it could annually raise $1 billion in tax revenue — might give a whole new meaning to budgetary phrase “smoke and mirrors” ... Meanwhile, hovering closer to home, remains the question of whether or not to give Sheriff Ed Bonner a new helicopter. That issue was to be settled at the most recent board of supervisors meeting. But still being able to count to three, the good sheriff was thrilled that the matter was temporarily tabled. Or as one wit exclaimed immediately after that meeting: “We live to fight another day.” Granted, there are good reasons on both sides of the issues, but if the bulk of the supes do opt for the helo, there still remains the dilemma of how to pay for it. Allow your humble scribe to suggest one. Actually, it’s more of a matter of borrowing some good ideas from previous suggestions. One of the options at that meeting was that the county would pay for the bird, then have the Sheriff’s Department pay it back. The stick at the other end of the carrot was the sheriff couldn’t buy any other toys until the copter bill was paid in full. Well, why not take that route, then lease the helo to the sheriff, using both his department funds and the United Auburn Indian Tribes’ generous grant to make the timely payments? Just an idea. ... Helicopter, take 2: Speaking of the tribe, our good source within confirms the offer, but said it is accompanied with some hesitations. The least of those, we’re told, is that the tribe does not want to be the only entity making a sizable donation. The tribe feels others should also step up to the cashier’s booth. When pressed, the source told us that the county’s cities, including Auburn, should also pony up a contribution because those entities will also benefit from having a helicopter. The source added that something has to be done soon because the sheriff’s existing helo will soon be grounded in need of about $100,000 in power plant work. Earlier, Sheriff Bonner said he would sell the existing Bell craft and apply those funds to the purchase of the new bird. However, some local aircraft folks were skeptical that he could get the $700,000 he thought the old helo was worth. ... Closed session: The Auburn City Council met in closed session Thursday night, namely to discuss two items — Costco and city employees. Without aiding elected officials to violate the Brown Act, we learned that the employees are mulling over a plan which would — in effect — cost them some salary and benefits, but would protect as many current jobs as possible. The city has five bargaining units: police, fire, Local 39, mid-management and management, and appears to be getting a patient hearing from each. Our sources tell us the cops are highly interested, while firefighters are hesitant if only for the fact that they are paid at a lower level than any other like department. Local 39 has a new negotiator, but so far, talks have been amicable. Mid-management loves the work, and who cares what management feels. And another item that has to be bargained is opening negotiations in the first place. Previously signed agreements dictate when those are done. We’re told the idea is ”to match services with the number of employees (the city) winds up with, although we know exactly the percentage of funds it can spend on this.” Smoothing troubled waters: A column ago we scribbled an item about the county and city governments not quite getting along when it comes to the issue of aforementioned Costco. To put not too fine a point on it, big box stores might not please greenies, but local governments love them because of the large chunk of sales tax they produce. That, in a nutshell, describes the current situation where Auburn leads the Costco chase with its Nevada Street site, only to see the county trying (through a surrogate) to lure it to Highway 49 near Luther Road. So in an attempt to smooth over the hard feelings, the Brothers Holmes are working to arrange monthly meetings where the two sides get together and discuss such issues. Third District Supervisor Jim Holmes, who’ll probably see Auburn slip out of his district after next year’s reapportionment, is in charge of setting the meetings. That’s on hold as he’s currently in Washington D.C. begging for some of our money to be returned to us. According to Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes, the small group will include the brothers, plus County Chief Executive Officer Tom Miller and Auburn City Manager Bob Richardson. ... Power play: Although it was reported during the most recent city council meeting that the solar power project would not include the city hall parking lot, that refusal supposedly at the behest of the city’s historical commission, Mayor Holmes disputed that at Tuesday’s Meddlers meeting. According to the mayor, the hesitation was due to staff concerns and nothing else. He then made it plain that even if the Historical Design Review Commission (HDRC) opposed the project, he preferred it moves ahead. He said not only did the HDRC not have any official purview over the parking lot, “there are too many good things that could come from this idea.” Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. He can be reached at