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Supervisors’ hands full with survival

They didn’t look too menacing, smiling from the cover of this newspaper last Saturday. Certainly not the kind of faces destined to govern Nevada County into something resembling the Dark Ages from a Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Judging by the letters and e-mails I’ve seen since election day, you would think the new majority-conservative Board of Supervisors will ride into the Rood Center today for their first official meeting on the backs of fire-breathing black dragons.



It must have been disappointing, then, to read the quotes accompanying those smiling photos.

“Our focus is going to be on the impact of the state budget,” said Supervisor Sue Horne, who has spent the first couple of years as the board’s token conservative.




That’s pretty much what Supervisor Peter Van Zant said in the same story, indicating that this new five-member board might have more in common than some realize.

“That’s going to be our biggest challenge,” said Van Zant, referring to that same estimated $35 million state deficit and its potentially lethal impacts on local governments.

At the end of this week, California Gov. Gray Davis is expected to tell us just how potentially lethal that will be, but it will certainly affect, either directly or indirectly, every one of us.

Last month Davis proposed spending reductions totalling $10.2 billion. The largest reductions are slated for transportation, education and local government.

The list of its potential victims include the disabled, shut-in, hungry, sick, latch-key, abused and homeless. That’s the human side of the problem.

Health? The governor proposes to reduce Medi-Cal provider rates 10 percent effective April 1, 2003, and eliminate selected Medi-Cal optional benefits for adults over 21, including dental services.

Education? The governor has proposed $1.7 billion in reductions to the 2002-03 General Fund K-14 Proposition 98 appropriations. Of that amount, $1.5 billion comes from K-12 education and $135 million from California Community Colleges.

Affordable housing? The governor is proposing to transfer an estimated $500 million in balances in Community Redevelopment Agencies unspent Low and Moderate Income Housing Funds. These funds are local property tax dollars that redevelopment agencies are required to spend on building, rehabilitating and preserving low- and moderate-income housing.

Traffic? The governor proposes transportation spending reductions of $1.8 billion. That includes elimination of an estimated $90 million in local street and road funding. That’s not good news for projects such as the long-anticipated Dorsey Drive interchange, designed to provide a relief valve for the bulging Basin. There is no question that the state’s transportation funding priorities will be shifted. And that’s never good news to the north, which will always play second fiddle to Southern California’s needs.

Senior citizens? The governor proposes to reduce spending by $2.5 million in various Department of Aging programs. That can’t be good news for our much-needed Meals on Wheels program, which provides hot food for many of our shut-in seniors.

Unfortunately, the Golden State is tackling this gigantic shortfall at a very bad time. Recent failures to produce evidence that Saddam is making and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction have not seemed to satisfy our thirst for war. On the other side of the globe, North Korea is acting just like you’d expect a country with nothing more to lose to act and is dusting off its own weapons of mass destruction. If you can’t feed your people, you may as well ruin someone else’s meal.

Our children, whom we often describe as our future, must be wondering exactly what “mass destruction” means and if it includes them.

My church was filled to the rafters on Sunday, evidence perhaps that many of us are seeking a little extra comfort during these troubling times.

Those who continue to define this new, so-called “conservative” board as the beginning of the end for Nevada County seem to forget that this fairly liberal governor and liberal-controlled state Legislature is largely responsible for this state deficit. They fail to grasp the theory that gravity would eventually snatch the Dot Com bubble and break it over Silicon Valley’s head.

But now is the time for unity. Especially at the local government level. These five elected public servants who will gather today at the Rood Center will face perhaps the greatest challenge any county board has ever faced. It will be required to make difficult and often-unpopular decisions as it deals with the economic fallout from Sacramento.

Any comparison to this board and previous boards would be remiss without remembering that California had an estimated $9 billion surplus last time a Nevada County supervisor was sworn into office.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears each Tuesday.


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