Angels at a crossroad

The intersection of Highway 4 and Highway 49 is the focus of a proposed project that could bring traffic alleviation and much-needed economic development to Angels Camp.

Affectionately referred to by locals as the City of Angels, the town best known for frog jumps and the county fair is faced with a somewhat uncertain future.

Angels Camp city leaders aren’t sitting idly by, waiting for fiscal disaster. Along with recommendations by a consultancy group, city government is taking action to avoid deficit spending and increase its budget through economic development and potential tax dollars.

“I look to the people and the relationships they have in this community. I think when people come to visit here, or people come to work here or invest here, that’s what they see,” said Melissa Eads, the city administrator for Angels Camp. “When you have that history and culture, there’s no problem that’s too great for this town to solve.”

So what exactly is the problem perplexing Angels? In a nutshell, it’s running out of cash.

Since fiscal year 2012-13, expenses for the city have slowly outpaced incoming revenues. According to Citygate, the consulting group that is helping Angels Camp figure out its sustainability, the city is solvent, but it is “headed for a cliff” if it doesn’t take action. And, according to preliminary reporting, it’s not a problem of expenditures, but a problem of revenue.

Although Citygate has not submitted its report yet, city leaders have already begun to do what they can. According to a presentation by Eads’ office, there has been a hiring freeze enacted on fire positions, the public works foreman and the museum director. The fire captain’s wage has been reduced to $15.50 per hour, and positions for firefighters have been turned into stipend supported. Police officer positions have been left vacant and recent new police hires have lower wages. In fact, new hires have lower wages city-wide.

In addition to the hiring freezes and salary reductions, the city planning position is now contracted, and there is little to no spending on training or facilities and equipment maintenance.

Despite the cutbacks, city staff has increased its efforts to maintain government facilities and equipment.

“I think our staff is pretty amazing. They have worked through a lot of the challenges we’ve had the last couple of years,” said Mayor Amanda Folendorf. “They’ve really stepped up. I’m really appreciative of that. They’ve kept Angels looking great … they’ve really gone that extra mile.”

Yet the challenges remain. If solutions are not found, Folendorf said it will be difficult to keep city services at their current levels. That includes water and sewer lines, road management and overall improvements.

Amy Augustine, the contracted city planner, pointed to a challenge that could possibly be an opportunity: roads and infrastructure.

“We have some traffic issues that need to be resolved,” Augustine said.

One area that’s getting specific focus is the Highway 4 and Highway 49 intersection. A proposed bypass, from Hwy 4 across the northwest corner of the intersection from Foundry Lane behind the current developed properties to Hwy 49, would alleviate some of the congestion problems at the busy intersection, Augustine pointed out.

It would also allow for further development such as a hotel, possible convention venues, housing or other needed projects. The funding would come from those who looked at investing in the area.

“Development that would occur in that area would fund the lion’s share,” Augustine said of infrastructure costs. Since the city entered into a partnership with Caltrans, a majority of funding for the bypass would come from SB1 taxes. Those funds could be in jeopardy if the bill gets repealed.

It’s a massive project that could take about four years to complete, according to Eads, and city leaders are looking to it for economic development.

Another source of development, one that will keep tax dollars local, is the addition of a Tractor Supply Store. The planning commission recently recommended the project, and the Angels Camp City Council will vote on it at the Oct. 2 meeting. If approved, it will give consumers a reason to shop locally, rather than go to Jackson or Sonora for the nearest TSC.

In order to increase city revenue, the Measure C initiative has been approved to appear on the upcoming November ballot. If passed, the measure would increase the city’s sales tax by .5 percent per transaction. The current sales tax (otherwise known as transaction and use tax) is 7.25 percent per transaction in the city. If the tax is voted for it will increase that amount to 7.75 percent per transaction starting Jan. 1, 2019.

That’s on par with the sales tax in cities such as Sonora, Jackson and Lodi (which is voting on an increase to 8.25 percent in November). Most cities hover around 8 percent, but Stockton has a sales tax rate of 9 percent.

That increase would bring in an additional estimated $400,000 per year to the City of Angels. It’s a sizable aid, but leaders say more will need to be done.

“I think it’s appropriate. I think it puts in place a means by which we can begin to turn around the finances,” said City Councilmember Joe Oliveira. “It’s not a panacea. It doesn’t all of the sudden solve the city’s financial problems, but it does help us put the brakes on the trend of deficit spending.”

That’s where the Citygate report will come in. Most of the city’s leaders, if not all, are waiting on that document to start the long-term planning process.

“Are we accounting for things correctly? Have we done all the right things in respect to the fees we collect? Opportunities for growth we’ve somehow overlooked,” Oliveira said regarding the findings of the report.

“We have to be thinking long-term,” said Debbie Ponte, executive director for Destination Angels Camp, the city’s development corporation. That thinking includes bringing in new industry, retail, tourists and people who look to live in the area. “If you’re not planning, you’re dead in the water.”

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