FAIRFIELD — Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson wants California to pay up more than $565,000 it owes the county in connection with local state wildlife refuges.
Thomson pointed to a 1949 state law concerning state wildlife areas. Once the state takes over private property for a refuge, it is to make annual payments in lieu of property taxes to the county where the land is located. The amount is to be the same a county received from taxes on the land before the state took ownership.
Solano County hasn’t received an in-lieu payment from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in more than a decade.
It isn’t alone. The Rural County Representatives of California says that the state owes 36 California counties a total of $17 million. Solano County is not a member of the group.
Thomson raised the issue in light of state Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta plans. The state wants to build twin tunnels to carry Delta water and to make other changes to the Delta.
To meet Endangered Species Act requirements, it is talking of restoring thousands of acres of tidal wetlands in rural, eastern Solano County. Land that becomes state wildlife refuges would no longer be private farmland, generating taxes for the county.
State Natural Resource Agency Deputy Secretary Jerry Meral has told him the state will compensate Solano County for tax revenue lost to the state’s Delta plans, Thomson wrote in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown. But, given the state’s poor track record, he is concerned, Thomson wrote.
Thomson asked Brown to make the payments it already owes the county. That would help build the sort of trust and collaboration needed to come up with a viable solution to state’s water problems, he wrote.
At the Nov. 26 Board of Supervisors meeting, Thomson asked his colleagues to authorize the county Auditor-Controllers Office to send a bill to Brown’s office. Yolo County has sent a bill for more than $1 million, he said.
“I assume the state could say, ‘We didn’t receive a bill from you, why do we have to pay?’ ” Thomson said.
County Administrator Birgitta Corsello said the county does ask for the money owed to it each year, but not in the fashion that Thomson suggested. No supervisor objected to giving Thomson’s idea a try.
The Rural County Representatives of California said a letter signed by 23 California legislators has been sent to Brown. This letter urges Brown to include in his 2013-14 budget enough money that the Department of Fish and Wildlife can pay what it owes to counties for the in-lieu payments. Among those signing are state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis.
“The administration has indicated that paying off California’s debts is one of their top priorities,” Nevada County Supervisor Nate Beason said in a Rural County Representatives of California press release.
These in-lieu payments are one of those debts, he said.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.