Another View: Looking Behind the Scenes

Looking Behind The Scenes: Brush and taxes grow at alarming rate

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Re-licensing the notebook while trying to recall what happened to the last governor who wanted to hike auto registration fees ... Meanwhile, yet another fiscal crisis is being dumped onto Auburn. This time, it’s the Bureau of Reclamation, which insists that things are so financially dire that it probably will not even fund the local rangers next year. But that’s not the worst of it. Remember back to about 2003 (roughly about the time you bought that now-despised SUV). Those were the days that the City of Auburn was no more than a tossed cigarette away from going up in collective flames. All it would have taken back then was the breeze blowing the wrong way and the canyon catching fire at the same time. Our local city leaders, along with then-CDF and the Auburn Fire Department, banded together to fix the problem. And about the biggest fix was the shaded fuel break plan. As great as that idea was and is, the dilemma is brush is a lot like taxes. Not only do neither ever go away, but both keep growing at alarming rates. City fire chief Mark D’Ambrogi, CDF (now Calfire) unit chief Brad Harris, and local citizens such as Bob Snyder made sure that break remained viable, and tried to expand it a little each year. Great! Until now. According to D’Ambrogi, on October first of this year, the Bureau of Reclamation terminated the $700,000 it used to maintain its portion of the canyon cleanup. Nice, huh? “Thanks to a $40,000 (Prop. 40) grant, the city is still able to keep up its part of the bargain,” D’Ambrogi said while wondering how to get the state and feds off their assets. Naturally, there’s more bad news. Not only did the bureau basically abandon preventive responsibility for all of that acreage “but now they’re telling us they may have to call upon city resources (to fight area blazes),” D’Ambrogi said, quickly adding that should that happen “we’ll be sending them a bill.” AFD was all along willing and able to meet each request for mutual aid, but now it appears that the state wants to shift even more firefighting responsibilities to the local communities. Normally, Calfire would be available for cleanup and such, but that contingent of the bravest is equally as hard-pressed by the combined funding crises facing us these days Back in my school days (and we’re talking about when we turned in homework on papyrus), we were taught that the first and main obligation of any elected government is public safety. Looking at recent bloated budgets, it’s amazing what passes for public safety these days. Take San Francisco, for instance. There, city officials decided not to hire the next two classes from the local police academy, but still plan to fund the local ballet, symphony and theater. Of course, it takes only one trip to the Castro District to see how ballet could be construed as public safety. The problem is not confined to the Bay Area. County, state and federal budgets would be a lot leaner if a family consisting of two recently laid-off parents raising two non-insured kids could only get a look at it before it was signed. Talk about cuts. That document after such a review would fit on a single page. Funny, isn’t it, that the closer a governmental entity is to the people, the less fat there is in its budget. Thankfully, Auburn is ready for this next crisis. D’Ambrogi is putting in extra time at his desk, scribbling away at several proposals for grants although as he says: “Grants are getting a lot tougher to come by these days, especially if you’re not in a big city.” Things have become so fiscally flat these days that even minuscule grant offerings are being gobbled up by the same entities that manage to devour the lion’s share of every bond payout — namely Los Angeles and San Francisco. Also on tap, is another of those volunteer efforts that makes our village famous. “It may not be a ‘Project Auburn’, but it will be similar,” City Manager Bob Richardson said in revealing the idea. Should all go right come spring time, when the manzanita and other brush is flourishing, an army of local volunteers will venture into the canyon to join the firefighters — and whomever else we can scrounge up — to at least keep the shaded break up to its maintenance schedule. Yes, it’s come to that. In fact, it probably will get a whole lot worse in the next few years. As usual, Richardson had a handle on it. “The way things are going, we could see a complete changing of the playing field, and we won’t know how the game will end,” he said, adding, “so it will be best for us to be prepared to run things ourselves.” Or we could ask for a bailout. Jim Ruffalo can be reached at