Tuesday, December 4, 2018

[Tuolumne County] Sonora officials to consider seeking extension to deadline for TCEDA decision

Blog note: this article is the latest on the subject, referencing a grand jury report.
The Sonora City Council will consider asking for an additional three months to make a decision on whether the city should stay a part of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority.
A proposed resolution drafted by City Attorney Douglas White will be presented to the council at a public meeting Monday evening that would ask for a one-time modification to the terms of the joint powers agreement between the city and county that created the TCEDA in 2008.
“Unless we provide notice more than 180 days before the start of the next fiscal year, we’re obligated to continue participating in the next fiscal year,” said City Administrator Tim Miller. “So we must decide before the end of the calendar, unless that term of the agreement is changed.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the city and county are required to each fund a share of the TCEDA’s annual budget. The city’s share is 23 percent, while the county’s is 77 percent.
About $103,000 of the TCEDA’s $460,000 for the past two fiscal years has come from the city’s General Fund, which pays for most core services like police, fire, public works, and employee salaries and benefits.
The proposed resolution would formally ask the county to reduce the amount of time the city is required to give notice if it wants to stop funding the TCEDA from at least 180 days to 90 days before the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.
That would give the city until the end of March to make a decision if the county Board of Supervisors approves the request.
A major reason the council wants more time is because the TCEDA is undergoing independent audits of its finances and management practices, both of which were the result of potential concerns described by the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury in its latest annual report.
Miller said he and White were informed by county officials recently that the financial audit is expected to be completed at the end of the month, while the management audit is expected to be completed by the end of January.
“I think the results of those audits would be appropriate for the council to consider if they want to continue being part of the TCEDA,” he said. “They will either confirm or reject the grand jury’s findings, there may be some new findings, and there may be some recommendations for the TCEDA board to consider.”
The TCEDA and its governing board would effectively be dissolved if the city chooses to break from the JPA with the county.
Some council members asked city staff at a public meeting on Nov. 19 to come back with some possible options for how economic development could be done in house if they choose to sever the ties with the TCEDA.
Miller has in turn compiled some information for the council to consider that includes suggestions from the California Association for Local Economic Development regarding performance measures and metrics, the TCEDA’s current work plan and annual report, strategic action plans on economic development from Mariposa and Stanislaus, and other business consulting services available through the Valley Sierra Small Business Development Center and Sierra Business Council.
“For the most part, we’re just providing information to the council,” Miller said.
A concern noted by both the grand jury and some members of the council is a lack of measures to gauge the TCEDA’s performance over the years.
Some examples of possible performance measures suggested by CALED include annual capital dollars invested in municipal infrastructure, number of building permits issued, capital investments per job, amount of tax collected by industry, and net job growth, among many others.
The Mariposa County Economic Vitality Strategy lists a number of goals with specific objectives and actions to accomplish them.
The plan also includes economic indicators that should be monitored to evaluate the county’s progress, such as labor market information from the California Employment Development Department, tourism data from Dean Runyan Associates, commercial and industrial real-estate information from the county’s building department and local brokers, and retail sales and growth data from the California Retail Survey and California Board of Equalization.
It also recommends tracking the number of businesses visited and assisted, new businesses formed or attracted, full-time and part-time jobs gained or lost due to business expansion, contraction, closure, and retention, business licenses issued and conducting an annual survey of businesses to get feedback on how the county services and other factors are affecting the business climate.
One of the potential concerns identified by the jury was the TCEDA’s lack of recordkeeping and transparency when it comes to the assistance it has provided to businesses over the years.
Information on the past and current assistance TCEDA has provided to businesses was also at the heart of lawsuit that was filed in early June by Ken Perkins, of Sonora, who has urged the council to back out of the partnership before the audits are completed.
Perkins’ lawsuit ultimately led to the TCEDA releasing what records it has on the projects it’s working on or has worked on, though it was limited to several heavily redacted spreadsheets that listed projects by industry type and included estimates on capital investment and jobs created by each.
The two sides have since settled the lawsuit after the documents were released, with the TCEDA agreeing to pay Perkins’ attorney fees totaling about $7,200. It also racked up additional costs exceeding $16,500 from outside attorneys hired to defend the agency.
Also at Monday’s meeting, the council will consider introducing an ordinance that would amend existing zoning laws to allow microbreweries in certain non-residential areas.
Approval of the ordinance is required before Thomas Silva, the new owner of the Lighthouse Deli in downtown Sonora, can move forward with his plans to add a microbrewery to the restaurant.
The Sonora Planning Commission swiftly gave its endorsement to approve the ordinance at a meeting on Nov. 13.
If the council approves the ordinance, the commission will consider approving a conditional use permit for Silva’s proposed project at a meeting on Dec. 10.
November 30, 2018
The Union Democrat
By Alex MacLean

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