Budget dependent on whim of legislators | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Budget dependent on whim of legislators

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Two states, grant money, fines and interest make up the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s multimillion dollar annual allowance.

Partially hindered by budget crises in California and Nevada, TRPA’s budget is $9.3 million, down from last year’s $14.2 million. The bulk of the fluctuation comes from work installing the coordinated transit system, a computer program that aligns buses throughout the basin. Two grants, one from the Federal Transit Administration and the other from the Environmental Protection Agency, contributed a total of $2.5 million to the project.

Another $1 million for the project came from mitigation money, which is the compensation businesses provide TRPA for increasing air pollution or cutting down trees for building.

Other funds came from Heavenly Ski Resort, casinos and other businesses.

TRPA used the money to help design the transit project, manage consultants and pay for kiosks, computer software and hardware, according to Richard Wiggins, TRPA’s transportation division chief.

The system is expected to be up and running next month.

The bulk of TRPA’s funding — 60 percent — comes from Nevada and California since TRPA is a bistate agency. California, which has more area on the lake, pays 40 percent while Nevada pays 20 percent.

The second-highest funding source comes from state and federal grants, primarily for transportation issues — at 25 percent.

“Erosion control efforts by the agency are highly grant operated,” said Bruce Adams, TRPA’s director of finance.

Best Management Practices, which involve efforts including retaining walls and paved driveways that protect lake clarity, fall under grant funding. The money for BMP retrofits comes from the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Grant money is used to contract design services, water clarity tests and other areas.

Service charges and fines make up 9 percent of funding, while contributions and interest provide the small remainder.

The bulk of the $9.4 million worth of expenditures is for salaries and benefits at 55 percent, or $5.2 million.

Contractual services, meaning companies or businesses that TRPA uses to do studies and other business, comprise 27 percent, or $2.5 million of the budget.

Service and supplies take up 18 percent, $1.7 million, while $28,000 in capital outlay soaks up the remainder.

There is not one agency responsible for fiscal oversight except Kafoury, Armstrong and Co., which performs the annual audit.

The 15-member Governing Board reviews the audit. Finance departments from both states scrutinize the budget before passing it to the legislatures for adoption. At the end of the fiscal year the finance departments review TRPA’s budget to verify where money was spent, said Jerry Wells, TRPA’s acting executive director.

The Nevada Legislative Oversight Committee, which oversees the TRPA and other organizations with regulatory authority in the basin, meets four times a year to discuss TRPA issues when the Legislature is not in session.

Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, a former member of the committee, said the group of legislators examines TRPA’s budget in regard to the amount of money spent on projects. The committee can reduce Nevada’s funding for TRPA.

“The funding for TRPA is two-thirds California and one-third Nevada,” Hettrick said. “Over the past decade, California has occasionally not funded their full share and we reduced funding accordingly. (We’ve) never ballooned funding. We have passed tens of millions in bond funding for projects in the basin.”

While the committee can partially fund TRPA, it does not investigate details of where money is spent.

State budgets crucial

TRPA is also accountable to organizations that offer grants, such as Caltrans.

“Last budget cycle our budget was reduced 10 percent by California then followed a reciprocating cut from Nevada of 10 percent,” Wells said. “Last year it ended up close to half a million dollars.”

While funding comes from various sources appears steady, the recent budget crises in California and Nevada have not seemed to impact TRPA, Adams, the finance director, said.

Last year TRPA took a 10 percent reduction in funding from California and a reciprocal 5 percent hit from Nevada, Wells said. It equated to a loss of about $500,000.

With an $8 billion deficit facing California for 2004-05, TRPA is expecting another potential $500,000 reduction in the future.

TRPA does brace itself for “unseen expenses” with a contingency fund of $71,000 which is supplied by money not received from California or Nevada, Wells said.

The agency hasn’t issued any layoffs to its 70-plus employees and is hiring, albeit on a temporary basis and some positions haven’t been filled. Vehicle purchases have been put on hold and certain programs — such as project review, the permitting process and contractual work — have experienced a “reduced approach,” Wells said.

— E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com.

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