Probably most citizens of Douglas County are unaware that our county government has recently concluded a forty-five-day comment period concerning proposed Title III spending.
In PL116-94, Douglas County Fire District #2 requested $60,000 to help cover the costs of two 4x4 pickups for search and rescue and emergency services. Public Works has requested $1,168,902 to replace a bridge over McCullough Creek. They justified it as a proper use of Firewise and Community Wildlife and Protection spending.
Community Rights Douglas County discovered that this proposed spending is unjustified under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Determination Act. In fact, they stretched the intent of the law beyond legal recognition.
Departments of Agriculture and Interior state that such uses are not legally consistent with the Act as written in 2000 and reauthorized in 2008, indicating that there is, in fact, a spirit of law that should protect the rights the residents of the county who are most directly impacted by fires. If this Act is instead used to take the place of Public Works Departments, then the people who were intended to receive the help they need because they live in fire prone areas will go under-served by the Firewise Programs and Community Wildfire Protection Plans because the funds have misappropriated. For example, at the Archie Creek Fire, there were 109 homes destroyed and hundreds of residents directly affected by the fires. All the people in areas like Archie Creek are failed by the county because county leaders have prioritized what would normally be covered by an everyday Public Works budget. Title III is not a slush fund for the entire county. It is intended to help a specific group of community members in the various counties and it takes savvy, compassionate people with community foresight that is grounded more in civics than greed.
Let us turn our focus first to the proposed purchase of two 4x4 vehicles. The intended use of this Act is clearly not in dispute here:
The GAO “asked the General Counsel of the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior for their views on whether the following categories of the uses would be consistent with Title III: (a) the purchase or leasing of real property; (b) the purchase, leasing, or construction of buildings or other permanent improvements to real property; ( c) vehicle purchases; (d) equipment purchases; and (e) training. In their legal views provided to us, the agencies stated that these expenditures generally would not be consistent with Title III (Bingaman and Murkowski p. 22. 2012).
In the legal views of the General Counsels of the Departments of the Agriculture and Interior, vehicle purchases would not be consistent with Title III. For this reason, we, at the Community Rights of Douglas County, reject the proposed purchase of two 4x4 vehicles using Title III funding.
Turning now to the $1,168,902 rebuilding of a bridge project, that, too, is not legal in the views of the Departments of Agriculture and Interior: “the purchase, leasing, or construction of buildings or other permanent improvements to real property” would not in their view be legally consistent with Title III.
We ask why the Public Works Department has not been maintaining the roads and bridges regularly in the county. If the county commissioners’ wildfire prevention plan rests on the construction of this bridge which so conveniently benefits the logging industry as much if not more than local residents, then the commissioners are failing at implementing any wildfire prevention plan. Attempting to convince the public that Title III funding should pay for the reconstruction of a bridge which both the Departments of Interior and Agriculture has clearly stated in their legal views would not be consistent with the use of said funding is both the misappropriation of Title III funds and the misuse of public trust.
Such abuse of public funds and trust leaves us with the next question:
Who wore out this bridge? The logging trucks, no? Here we note that the private logging industry does not pay a harvest severance tax which would go towards the Public Works Department. It appears to us that the private logging industry and Public Works benefits from combined bridge reconstruction/misappropriation of the Title III funds; the county avoids dipping into the Public Works budget while the logging industry doesn’t pay for its right to pass through county roads and bridges.
It appears to a savvy reader that the county is skirting its fiduciary responsibility to its residents by requesting to illegally use funds from one source in order to avoid spending money from the originally intended budgetary procurement to (re)construct bridges and roads and purchase vehicles for the search and rescue.
A community has a right to make decisions affecting its well-being. This is the goal of Community Rights Douglas County.