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Placer’s $100K supes-controlled fund for charity stays in budget for now

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn’s 4 th of July fireworks are in no danger of fizzling and there are no plans for the cowboy poets to steer their couplets away from the annual Cowpoke Fall Gathering in Loomis. But both community events are part of a network of community events that now take in tax dollars from a $100,000 fund controlled by the Placer County Board of Supervisors. And the fund could go away if at least one supervisor has his way. Acting on an election promise, Roseville Supervisor Jack Duran has initiated his own drive this year to reconsider what critics commonly refer to as a “slush fund.” But that effort now appears to have lost some steam, with the board voting earlier this month to approve a proposed budget that includes retaining all of the $100,000 fund. Duran said that with budget talks in August, the revenue-sharing question is still on the table and he’ll be pursuing the moratorium as a potential alternative to other cuts. “I’m still moving forward to have board discussion on a moratorium on revenue sharing,” Duran said. “We haven’t adopted a final budget and as I understand it, it’s still a line item. We’re in a period of flux until the final budget is adopted in September and we need to prioritize programs and projects.” Each supervisor is allowed $20,000 from the fund to give to non-profits. Duran abstains from voting on revenue sharing requests and had no funding this year after his predecessor Rocky Rockholm drained the fund of donations before he left office in December. Three of the supervisors – Robert Weygandt, Kirk Uhler and Jim Holmes – make initial recommendations on funding for their districts. Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery has opted to transfer District 5’s $20,000 share to county health and human services programs. Duran called in February for a one-year moratorium on revenue sharing and reconsideration of the program after that. If revenue sharing continues, Duran said it should be put in the hands of a citizens committee. The Auburn Chamber of Commerce asked for $2,600 to help pay for this year’s July 4 fireworks display in Auburn. At a meeting two weeks ago, the board approved $1,000. Chamber Executive Officer Bruce Cosgrove said that Supervisor Jim Holmes said that the rest of the money will be available from the fund in the next fiscal year. The county funding represents just more than a quarter of the budget for Auburn’s 4 th of July program, he said. Fireworks are the major cost, at about $7,000, Cosgrove said. “There are no guarantees in life,” Cosgrove said. “If it goes away, we would have to find another source of revenue to keep it viable.” Cosgrove said that supervisors and the county CEO’s office have been supportive for events when it has made sense for the county to be financially helpful. In the case of a recent grant, it’s helping to fund an event that has a tradition as a community focus, he said. Duran’s questioning retention of the fund during an economic downturn is being bolstered by Placer County taxpayers like Newcastle’s Matt Marin. Marin said that arguments over the size of the fund in relation to the county’s overall budget (more than $700 million), aren’t valid. “If it’s such a small amount, then dig into personal wallets and keep mitts off taxpayer dollars for private gifts,” Marin said. Carol Braun, co-founder of the Cowpoke Fall Gathering, said her non-profit group asked for $500 last year after she learned about the fund and was happy to receive it. “Every little bit helps,” she said. The Cowpoke Foundation that organizes the event is 100 percent volunteer and all proceeds go to charitable organizations, she said. This year’s beneficiaries include Ride to Walk, a therapeutic riding program providing equine therapy to children with neurological disabilities. “Someone came up with the idea (of applying for revenue-sharing) and we thought that maybe we could get a piece of the pie,” Braun said. While the $500 sponsorship level provide two free tickets, Loomis-area Supervisor Jim Holmes paid for his own, Braun said. Braun added that the county was listed in its program but Holmes or county officials didn’t require anything for the donation. Not all requests receive funding and last year’s Placer County grand jury recommended that all applications be shown in a county database – whether they’re rejected or accepted. The county didn’t agree with that recommendation, stating, however, that unfunded request letters will be kept on file at the Board of Supervisors’ office for review on request for one year.