A variety of topics were discussed June 28 at Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler's Town Hall Meeting, held at Wasuma Elementary School in Ahwahnee. Among them, Eastern Madera County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announced it is gearing up to begin construction for a planned no-kill animal shelter in Ahwahnee.
A controversial state rural fire fee was attacked, a new registry for abandoned structures was announced -- along with a new comprehensive "311" phone number for county questions -- and Wheeler said he'd push for another year of reduced impact fees at 66.7%.
SPCA animal shelter
Eastern Madera County SPCA announced it is going before the county soon to request a permit to build their planned 8,000-square-foot no-kill animal shelter on 6.5 acres near Wasuma Elementary School in Ahwahnee.
"When you drive by the site, there's a sign that says the 'potential future home' of the shelter," said Tom Burdette, Eastern Madera County SPCA county liaison. "Well, it's not potential anymore. It will be."
The local SPCA has raised enough to cover immediate infrastructure -- things like grading the pad, installing wells, plumbing, septic and roads. Still, to build the shelter buildings they'll need to raise another $950,000 (what will be less after money raised during the honorary mayor race is counted, Burdette said.) The next step is securing a lease in August, hopefully at a nominal fee from the county because the group will provide a community service for residents, he said. After obtaining a lease, the group hopes to get a conditional use permit in October and have the site "build ready" within 18 months.
The local SPCA sees finishing the groundwork as a crucial step to get more donations for the construction of the buildings.
While the shelter will sit on 70 to 80 acres of county land across from the Ahwahnee Regional Park, Wasuma Elementary School and the Ahwahnee Cal Fire Station, it will not cost taxpayers a dime, either in construction or operation, Burdette said.
"We are going to do the construction for the lowest bid we can," Burdette said. "We are following the rules that any other private business or entity would follow because we aren't using public funds."
The shelter will include dog and cat communities, a spay and neuter clinic, dog park, and meeting rooms for things like school education and pet adoption.
A controversial state rural fire fee -- slated to go to the general fund -- has been reduced from $150 to $115, and will be billed by the state to 17,600 parcels in Madera County and 880,000 total throughout California, Wheeler said.
The California State Board of Equalization reported it can only bill 4,000 people a month. and the Howard Jarvis Tax Payers Association has prepared a lawsuit and is waiting for the first person to receive a bill, he said. While the fees have been slated to go to the state's general fund, which funds Cal Fire, most at the June 28 meeting doubted that fire fees would be used to help local stations fight fires.
David Irion, Cal Fire and Madera County Fire Department division chief, said most Cal Fire dollars are currently earmarked for fire suppression -- what help firefighters fight fires -- and the rural fire fee funds have been earmarked for "fire prevention" -- and only about $1 million so far.
The county started a registry in April for abandoned and depressed structures, what includes foreclosed homes. Upon changing hands, all to-be abandoned buildings must be registered with the county and are required to fix things like broken glass and graffiti, and cut back weeds, to ensure they don't become a detriment to the area.
"I think it's a great program and it keeps these houses up," Wheeler said.
Reduced Impact fees
The impact fees Wheeler was instrumental in implementing -- reducing fees associated with building by 66.7% for one year -- will expire in September. While the second year is slated for a 33.3% reduction, Wheeler said it's been so successful he will push for another year at a 66.7%.
"Building permits are three to four times what they were," he said. "In March and April we got 15 permits for wells, which means someone is drilling to build, and that means people are working and we have sales tax and property tax coming in."
"311" contact number
Wheeler announced a new "311" program that will start Aug. 1 -- an easy to remember phone number people can call for information about all non-emergency county services. 311 operators will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to answer questions and refer callers to proper agencies. Information is also available at MadCo311.com.Along with helping save the county money, the new 311 number ensures residents can always get in touch with someone at the county, even on furlough days, Wheeler said.