Monday, October 10, 2016

[Trinity County] Supervisors respond to grand jury reports

The Trinity County Board of Supervisors has filed responses to recent grand jury reports on water, grants and inmate welfare trust funds, disagreeing with several findings and recommendations that were made.
On the grand jury’s water report, the Board of Supervisors disagreed with a recommendation to involve county officials in resolving conflicting practices regarding sale and transportation of bulk water for agricultural purposes, noting the water providers operate under state law and their own governing boards, not the county.
However, the board agreed that well permitting review and upgrades are needed in the county and proposals are currently being worked on to better manage and regulate well permits. The board also agreed that further analysis is needed on ways to protect county watersheds and aquifers from unauthorized or damaging incursions, noting “the desire is there, but the funding is not.”
The board disagreed with a grand jury finding that residential water is most important, stating instead that both residential and agricultural use are very important and warrant further study on how to manage and carefully regulate to benefit both.
The grand jury also recommended a study be done with involvement from all stakeholders to determine what the water carrying capacity is countywide, including additional public and private water storage opportunities. The board agreed there is need for such a study, but no available resources at this time to fund it without obtaining a very large grant.
The grand jury found that policies of water providers in the county have enabled transport of water outside of district boundaries, opening up marijuana agriculture in areas not anticipated or desired in county policies.
The board of supervisors disagreed, saying the Weaverville Community Services District and Trinity County Waterworks District #1 in Hayfork have been providing drought emergency water to residences whose wells have dried up. The board noted the providers do not have resources to police where the water is going or what it is being used for, and said the actual amount of such diversions is insignificant to the total volume of water processed by the providers.
On the grand jury’s recommendation that the Board of Supervisors promptly adopt a county grading ordinance, the board said that will be implemented and has been on the Planning Department’s “to do” list for several years, becoming even more important “with the expansion of illegal agriculture.” It said a grading ordinance will be drafted when the county finds funding and planning staff to do the work.
On the grand jury’s report entitled “Money, Money Nowhere…The Buck Stops Here!!” the board agreed that the loan/grants accounting spreadsheet is unorganized, poorly documented and in great need of management oversight.
The board indicated that an audit of the CDBG portfolio accounting and Housing Rehabilitation loan portfolios will be recommended to the County Administrative Officer (as soon as one is hired).
The board disagreed with the grand jury finding there has been no servicing of the loans other than posting of payments, and no collection efforts made by the county, resulting in the write-off of much needed money for support services. The board’s response was that the county, to the best of its ability, has taken steps to send out default notices and commence collection efforts.
The board also noted the county cannot use income received from servicing the loans to cover administrative costs and doing so would be illegal.
The board agreed that a checklist or risk assessment policy to ensure equitable decision making for future loans will be recommended to the CAO.
Regarding allegations by the grand jury that the housing rehab loan committee violated the Brown Act by holding serial email and phone meetings, the board disagreed, saying the committee is not subject to the Brown Act and that the county has held public meetings as required for CDBG activities.
The board also agreed to continually attempt to refresh the committee membership “as volunteers come forward.”
The grand jury recommended that the Board of Supervisors make re-establishment and reorganization of the county grants department a priority, budgeting appropriately to attract qualified employees with lending, collections and grant-writing experience.
The board’s response was that the recommendation would not be implemented, noting “the county does not have the financial resources to re-establish the grant department.”
The grand jury found Sheriff Bruce Haney potentially guilty of “misfeasance” for reporting to the Board of Supervisors on the past five years’ worth of expenditures from the Inmate Welfare Fund instead of annually as required by penal code.
The Board of Supervisors disagreed, saying the term “misfeasance” was not an accurate description of why the reports were given in the manner they were.
Regarding a finding that Board of Supervisors’ visits to county jail facilities are rare, the board agreed, noting the grand jury’s recommendation of yearly visits would require further analysis. Full board participation would require a noticed meeting, open to the public. An ad hoc committee of two could be convened to tour facilities instead, but that would be at the discretion of the board chairman.
  • September 21, 2016
  • The Trinity Journal
  • By Sally Morris

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