The 2018-2019 Calaveras County Grand Jury has convened, issuing a report that shows continuing problems throughout the county, specifically when it comes to animal control, higher education and a veterans district.
Released June 28, the Grand Jury report highlights a bond measure in the San Joaquin Delta Community College District that bills homeowners in the northern half of the county through property taxes based on the unrealized promise that it would build a college in Valley Springs. The report also indicates deficiencies in staffing and funding and a lack of policies and procedures for various county operations.
Consisting of 19 jurors from the community, the committee investigates county facilities and processes based on citizen complaints, matters raised by members of the Grand Jury and referrals from the preceding Grand Jury. Its major function is to examine county and city government and special districts to ensure those entities are carrying out their duties to the citizens of the county.
San Joaquin College District failing to reinvest in the northern half of the county
Calaveras County residents are served in the north by the San Joaquin Delta Community College District (SJDCD) and in the south by the Yosemite Community College District (YCCD). YCCD consists of Columbia College in Calaveras County and Modesto Junior College in Stanislaus County. In 2004, SJDCD received voter approval of a $250 million “Measure L bond,” part of which was to be invested in the construction of a new Foothill/Motherlode campus in the SJDCD. The district’s residents have been paying for the bond on their property tax bills since 2004.
That project has since been abandoned, with no indication that it will be picked back up by the district.
“Despite Measure L bond language stipulating that a new campus would be established in Calaveras County, 15 years later, the county has no such facility,” the report reads. “Over the life of the bond measure (expiring in 2029), those Calaveras County taxpayers will have paid over $10 million in bond monies to pay for facilities outside of the county … All but $4 to $5 million of Measure L bond monies have already been spent and/or (are) committed to ongoing projects.”
In its findings, the jury reports, “As long as Calaveras County is a member of SJDCD, any new bond could be approved with or without the support of county voters.” Thus, the recommendation is to withdraw from the district and pursue one of two options: negotiate to consolidate the entirety of Calaveras County into YCCD, or develop a county sponsored/partnered distance learning campus such as the one in Amador County.
The report listed 20 years of Grand Jury findings indicating that the Animal Control Services facility continues to be “inadequate, unsafe, understaffed, and (having) outlived its utility.”
It cites “inadequate space for housing animals, insufficient storage space, an insufficient number of medical exam rooms, chipped linoleum and inadequate laundry facilities.” Two of the department’s vehicles were deemed unsafe to drive and especially insufficient for transporting animals, based on high mileage, steering issues and a lack of air conditioning.
The jury found that the facility could operate more efficiently if it were run by the Sheriff’s Office, as an “ACS officer would command more respect and authority within the community, have the authority to issue citations, make arrests, and enforce codes and licensing laws.”
Its recommendation was for county supervisors to either fund the department to build a new facility, examine vacant county buildings for relocation or outsource the operation, to provide funding to hire more office personnel and purchase a new vehicle.
Regarding the county’s Code Compliance unit under the Building Department, the report recommended that it maintains its own budget and creates a Policy and Procedure Manual for it to operate under. It should also focus on all county compliance issues such as zoning, signage, main county highway beautification and nuisance abatement, according to the report.
More generally, the Grand Jury found that the county has not standardized purchasing policies and procedures over the past three fiscal years, leaving a lack of guidance for how each department should be making purchasing decisions.
It emphasized that the county could save money if department heads were able to collaborate on larger purchases together that could be used across departments.
Access to grant funding is “being lost” due to the lack of a grant application and administration policy for the county.
The jury recommended forming a grant writing committee consisting of multiple department heads. It based this on its analysis of Yuba County’s adoption of such a committee. Consisting of the CAO, the District Attorney, representatives from the Probation, Public Defender, Health and Human Services departments, the group has secured $2.1 million in grants since its inception in May of 2018.
Regarding the Sheriff’s Office, the report laid out a plethora of initiatives to address the department’s funding and staffing shortage. Those included addressing inadequate salary levels of Correctional Officers and Technicians (CTs), adjusting its budget to provide sufficient staffing levels for the safety of officers, technicians and inmates, hiring two additional CTs, continuing outreach and recruiting to fill the two CT vacancies, establishing a written employee retention program, approving funding for eight additional patrol deputies and determining the staffing levels needed to increase the number of out-of-county inmates housed in the jail, among other recommendations.
Developing a resource guide for homeless services
The Grand Jury report also investigated services offered to homeless K-12 students by county schools, school districts, and the Calaveras County Office of Education (CCOE). A majority of homeless students were identified to be within Calaveras Unified School District.
The report recommended that CCOE develop a clear comprehensive resource guide for homeless services, and that it should partner with The Resource Connection to do so.
The report also commended various county schools for their programs to help children in homeless situations.
Jenny Lind Vet Hall outstanding loan
The Grand Jury found that Jenny Lind Veterans Memorial District (JLVMD) obtained unauthorized commercial loans to pay for the completion of a new hall that opened in 2018 without the involvement of the Calaveras Board of Supervisors or the Auditor/Controller.
The district now has an outstanding loan on the property, and is at risk of loan default. The jury’s recommendation is for the Board of Supervisors to partner with the JLVMD to pay off the noncompliant loan and create a more favorable long-term loan.
Online copies of the 2018/19 Grand Jury report are available at grandjury.calaverasgov.us/Reports, and print copies will be available at county offices and in the Calaveras Enterprise office at 15 Main Street in San Andreas by July 11.
Correction: A prior version of this article stated that the print copy of the report would be available July 3.