Parting is such sweet sorrow

Butte County’s chief administrative officer since 2002, Paul McIntosh will become executive director of the California State Association of Counties on July 1.

As I tender my resignation, I am torn between pleasurable anticipation and the pain of parting. The pain comes from the many great relationships formed and sustained while I led Butte County through some tumultuous times, and from the unfinished business I leave behind.

Butte County now has a solid financial base, with a proposed 2007 budget that is balanced and will sustain programs necessary for county citizens. However, Lake Oroville imposes a continuous drain on county finances. Butte County is obligated to provide services to people who visit the lake, but receives little tax money in return. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff estimate a financial impact of up to $9.2 million a year between costs for public services and revenues lost from property taken off county tax rolls when the dam was built.

The citizens of Butte County are subsidizing the delivery and use of water for the remainder of California. This subsidization must stop, and the Department of Water Resources must mitigate these losses.

Butte County is full-force into a re write of the general plan and zoning ordinance—the 2030 General Plan. This is a significant moment in county history and will lay the groundwork for our future quality of life. I am concerned the plan ultimately adopted be one that can be sustained financially. To do that—and maintain the support for our tremendous agricultural areas, as well as respect our environment, watersheds, aquifer-recharge areas and the numerous other issues associated with development—requires the cooperation of our cities and towns.

County government provides services to every person living in the county, including those in cities and towns. Yet, tax sharing and financial management do not reflect that reality. This places significant pressure on the county to move development into unincorporated areas (threatening those farm lands and the environment) to generate sales- and property-tax revenues to fund much-needed services. This “fiscalization of land use” is a dire concern and needs to be addressed in the general planning process.

Finally, I am concerned about future financial management. The bifurcated system now in effect is inefficient. Ten of California’s 58 counties have appointed finance directors, as do the vast majority of the 490 cities and towns. Appointed department heads have their business heard in public meetings and voted upon by supervisors or councilmembers. In contrast, the county’s auditor-controller is elected for a four-year term and is not held to this same standard.

I know the direction of the Board of Supervisors is positive for the citizens of Butte County. Please give them your support in wrapping up these critical issues.