Responses to the 2018-19 Calaveras County Grand Jury Report have been published, and county officials have pushed back against some of the committee’s recommendations.

The jury, which consisted of 19 members of the community, was tasked with surveying the operations of local government entities.

Some notable recommendations made last June, when the report was released, were that the Calaveras County Environmental Management Agency relinquish the helm of Animal Control Services (ACS) to the Sheriff’s Office and that the county withdraw from the San Joaquin Delta Community College District (SJDCD).

Animal Control will not go to the sheriff

All parties addressed in the Grand Jury’s report addressing ACS opposed the recommendation that its operations should be transferred to the Sheriff’s Office.

Environmental Management Agency Administrator Brad Banner pointed to improvements made to the county shelter since the Sheriff’s Office elected to give it up in 2012.

Banner listed a sharp decline in animal euthanizations, greater involvement with the community and volunteers, and the creation of new animal welfare-centric programs among the reasons why ACS should remain under his agency.

“I will recommend against implementation because, while there may be some advantage in transferring operations to the Sheriff’s Office in terms of enhanced enforcement capabilities and command presence, doing so would not automatically address the resource issues described in the report, would not bring us closer to obtaining a new animal shelter, and could bring a number of unintended consequences adversely affecting the community,” he wrote in his response.

Banner agreed with the Grand Jury’s finding that ACS has been historically underfunded and argued that the issue would persist under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office.

Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio echoed Banner’s sentiment that his department does not have enough funding to adopt ACS.

“As outlined within the 2014-2015 Grand Jury Report as well as many other Grand Jury reports, the Animal Services Department is under-budgeted and understaffed. The Sheriff’s Office is also underfunded and understaffed,” DiBasilio wrote. “In the recent past, members of the County Administrative Office and the Board of Supervisors had recommended and voted to decrease the budgets of both the Sheriff’s Office and the Animal Services Department. The budgets were decreased to levels where services and staff cut to such an extent where both agencies were forced to manage and only respond to crisis and emergency calls rather than being properly responsive and proactive.”

He continued, “At times, Animal Services staff was unavailable to respond to emergency and nonemergency calls for service. These calls were pushed to deputy sheriffs who were working patrol responding to crimes in progress and other emergency calls. The Patrol Division within the Sheriff’s Office was also severely understaffed and was often forced to choose between responding to priority/emergency law enforcement calls for service and priority Animal Services calls or animal related emergencies. This unnecessarily placed a huge burden onto the Sheriff’s Office and its staff.”

The sheriff recommended that instead of transferring ACS to another agency, the county should combine ACS and Code Enforcement into one entity.

“This has been done with success in several states including cities within California,” DiBasilio wrote. “There are several efficiencies that could be brought about by merging the two departments and cross-training staff.”

In their responses to the Grand Jury’s findings on ACS, County Administrative Officer (CAO) Albert Alt and the Board of Supervisors (BOS), represented by Chairman Jack Garamendi, stated that although the county’s shelter is outdated, the animals are “properly housed and well cared for.”

Nonetheless, the board stated that options for a potential location, designs and funding for a new shelter facility would be brought before the board by the CAO within six months of their response, dated September of 2019.

Funding for additional staff members, however, will not likely be provided in the county’s 2019-20 budget, despite the jury’s recommendation.

“While open hours are limited, ACS is able to provide all necessary services to the public,” Alt wrote. “Additional staff would provide greater convenience to citizens however, all services are currently addressed.”

He added that departments are given the opportunity to submit funding requests annually, and those requests are considered “within the constraints of the county budget.”

Banner confirmed in his response that a request for funding for an additional officer position would be included in the department’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget proposal.

The county will remain in the SJDCD

Although the Grand Jury found that the SJDCD has not fulfilled its promise of a new campus to Calaveras County taxpayers, all parties addressed in the report disagreed with the recommended withdrawal from the college district.

In 2004, SJDCD received voter approval of a $250 million Measure L bond, a portion of which was to be invested in the construction of a new foothill/Mother Lode campus. The district’s residents have been paying for the bond on their property tax bills for a decade and a half.

In response to the jury’s finding that there are no plans to build a campus or college learning center in Calaveras County for the remaining life of the bond, Dr. Omid Pourzanjani, superintendent/president of San Joaquin Delta College, responded that a decline in enrollment has stalled the project.

“The Measure L project list included the Foothills Campus project and therefore, the expenditure of Measure L bond funds on that project was authorized by the voters,” he stated. “However, Measure L also stated that, ‘[i]n the event of an unexpected slowdown in development or enrollment of students at the college, certain of the projects described above will be delayed or may not be completed. In such case, bond money will be spent on only the most essential of the projects listed above.’ Following voter approval of Measure L, there was an unexpected slowdown in enrollment in the geographic area relevant to the Foothills Campus. For the foregoing reason, the Board of Trustees (‘Board’) SJDCD decided not to proceed with the Foothills Campus project.”

The college district agreed with the jury’s finding that a new bond will be required to fund future facilities requirements.

However, Pourzanjani also stated, “The Board of SJDCD expects to consider re-evaluating the allocation of unspent funds, even if currently allocated, to an educational facility project in Calaveras County. The board cannot assure that this will be done by Oct. 1, 2019.”

Calaveras County Sup-erintendent of Schools Scott Nanik responded that the jury’s recommendation to withdraw from SJDCD by Dec. 31, 2019, was “unrealistic.”

“The process for the reorganization of a community college district is very detailed and complicated. The process must be initiated by a petition filed containing at least 25% of the registered voters in the territory or a majority of the members of the governing boards of each school and community college district affected. The process may also require an election. The process would be further complicated by the fact that the territory of SJDCCD [sic] touches five counties,” Nanik wrote.

He also stated that he meets with the SJDCD president several times each year regarding Calaveras County students’ access to the college district’s programs.

“I will continue that effort when the new SJDCCD president is seated in the fall of 2019,” Nanik stated. “I communicate at least on a quarterly basis with SJDCCD’s dean of CTE & Workforce Development on matters in which SJDCCD can improve its services to Calaveras County.”

The Board of Supervisors stated in its response that a withdrawal from the college district would not be implemented.

“This recommendation will not be implemented. The CAO, in collaboration with the Superintendent of Schools, are working collaboratively to approach higher education entities to develop specific higher education delivery strategies for the county,” the board stated.

Homeless students have a resource guide for services

The Grand Jury investigated services offered to homeless kindergarten through 12th grade students within the county and recommended that the Calaveras County Office of Education (CCOE) develop a resource guide for homeless students by partnering with the Resource Connection.

Nanik stated that he agrees with the jury’s findings and that CCOE revised its website in response to the recommendations.

Through a collaboration with the director of health and human services, the site, ccoe.k12.ca.us/homelessliaison, now offers a comprehensive list of homeless youth resources and liaisons, as well as information regarding the rights of homeless youths.

The BOS will not partner with Jenny Lind Vets on outstanding loan

The Grand Jury found that Jenny Lind Veterans Memorial District (JLVMD) obtained 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.

Due to an outstanding loan, the jury found that the district is now at risk of loan default. The jury recommended that the Board of Supervisors partner with the JLVMD to pay off the loan and develop a compliant long-term loan.

The board responded that it will not partner with the JLVMD due to its status as a special district.

“The BOS supports the JLMVD and will work with the district, at their request, to consider options but the JLMVD is a special district with its own governance. Decisions relative to their finances are independent of the BOS,” the board stated.

The district agreed in its response that the loan is at risk of default, but disagreed that the property is at risk due to “a substantial increase in property valuation” and additional revenue from renters, as well as land assets.

The full responses are available to view at http://grandjury.calaverasgov.us/.

Additional responses regarding departmental needs will be featured in next week’s edition.

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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