The Nevada County Board of Supervisors has become increasingly exasperated with the state of California, saying the state is placing undue financial and service burdens on the entities and residents of the rural portions of the state, while at the same time failing to meet its fundamental obligations to those constituents.
“We’re getting hosed on this one, just like the fire tax and state parks,” said Hank Weston in regard to the Williamson Act. “A lot of the state’s policy has affected rural people but had very little impact on the urban areas.”
Weston’s comment came after a debate among members of the board regarding whether to grant the owner of an 89-acre parcel, Dave Barhydt, a tax break meant to provide incentives to the cattle grazer to retain agricultural uses on the property.
The resolution, which meant a loss of between $2,300 and $4,000 in revenue, passed 4 to 1, with Supervisor Nate Beason dissenting.
While Beason joked he would be unwelcome at the next Farm Bureau dinner, he asserted that his support was withdrawn not because he didn’t believe agriculture was paramount to the local economic landscape but instead because of the state’s recent policy to withhold funds relating to the law.
The Williamson Act was passed in 1965 by the state of California, and until recently, the state bore the financial brunt of the law. While the property tax break is felt by local jurisdictions that rely on such taxes as the primary revenue, the state would historically support local jurisdictions by making up all or a part of the difference.
During the fiscal crisis the state faced over the past five years, California withdrew its financial support — called subvention.
“I feel strongly about the way this state treats local governments,” Beason said. “Their subvention is really unfair and they need to restore it. Local governments are carrying enough of the burden.”
Earlier in the day, the board passed a resolution expressing support for the South Yuba River Parks Association, a nonprofit established to provide volunteer and monetary support for the state park, in its bid to help fix the Bridgeport Covered Bridge.
Built in 1862, the covered bridge — thought to be the longest single-span covered bridge in the nation — is an iconic symbol of the region’s prominent role in the California Gold Rush as it was a parcel of the Virginia Turnpike.
“It’s very embarrassing to me to have people come up here to see the bridge and there is an ugly old fence that keeps them from walking on it,” Weston said.
“It’s unconscionable to me.”
The bridge has been shuttered since 2011 due to professed structural deficiencies, and state parks officials have said it will take $1.1 million to restore the iconic walkway to a usable condition.
Parks has obtained a grant to pay for half of the project but has yet to allocate the remainder. Also, the local community will have to locate about $60,000 to match the grant, of which it has about half thus far.
Beason expressed frustration that Nevada County continues to suffer due to the state’s difficulties.
“The state should meet its obligation to the people,” he said. “I think they forget who owns this stuff.”
Beason said the state has been trumpeting a surplus figure of a few billion dollars.
“The state is in great financial shape, and it has an obligation to meet the minimum it owes its citizens,” Beason said.
Beason is also a member of the Rural County Representatives of California, an entity that has decried California for the debts that it owes rural counties.
RCRC and its member counties have urged Gov. Jerry Brown, collectively and independently, to honor the state’s legal and financial commitment to California counties as related to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes obligations.
Currently, the state owes 36 California counties more than $17 million in past-due PILT payments, spanning more than a decade.
The state owes Nevada County roughly a quarter of a million dollars, Beason said.
“This report, coupled with the administration’s stated focus on paying down debt, provides our rural counties with hope that the state will honor its obligations,” Beason said in a recent RCRC press release.
“We look forward to receiving these long-past-due payments that are so critical to helping fund local programs, operations and improvements.”
The fire fee, a $115 to $150 fee assessed to mostly rural areas by the state to backfill budget deficiencies in the general fund, has been widely derided by rural county representatives, including Nevada County officials.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.