Wheeler says pay bill

Community CorrespondentSeptember 10, 2013 

Mountain Area residents recently gathered at the Pines Resort at Bass Lake for a Town Hall Meeting hosted by Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler.

Although bitterly opposed to the fee, Wheeler strongly urged that two steps be taken in response:

First, he encouraged recipients to pay the amount levied since penalties against those refusing to do so are extraordinarily harsh, including a 20% per month late charge. Secondly, and most importantly, he urged all to call (not write) the Governor's office on a regular, weekly basis urging repeal of this "unfair, potentially unconstitutional burden on foothill constituents." The number is (916) 445-2841.

Wheeler provided a complete update on the recently passed 2013-2014 $208 million county budget. Approved by a unanimous 5-0 vote, the new budget features such positive developments as the elimination of county employee furlough days and significant deficit reduction enhanced by recent restructuring of the Resource Management Agency.

Reminiscing on obstacles encountered during his six and a half years of service since assuming office in January of 2007, Wheeler outlined the enormous challenge of maintaining efficiency and accountability in the face of necessary employee layoffs which have reduced country staffing levels from approximately 1,500 to 1,000 during his tenure.

A controversial subject generating much interest and concern among Mountain Area residents is the State Rural Fire Fee requiring property owners to pay $150 for every structure on their property if located in an area where the state is responsible for wildfire protection. A second round of bills from the State Board of Equalization began arriving in Eastern Madera County last week. About 13,700 residents of the area are receiving bills.

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Wheeler pointed with pride in assisting Madera County obtain necessary funding for a $30 million dollar, 144 bed expansion of the county jail in 2009. Madera County was one of only three in California to fight through red tape and take advantage of a $1.2 billion dollar construction authorization by state lawmakers in 2007. The project is expected to be completed later this month. An additional $3 million in state funding has now been granted to the county for a new kitchen in the facility.

Wheeler hailed continuing progress in work on the new four story, 110,000 square foot Madera County Courthouse financed by $100 million from the state in a project which the county was able to obtain just before budget cuts in Sacramento put a hold on other California courthouse plans.

Also reviewed were various road projects underway and continuing analysis of possible new escape routes in the event of fire, such as encountered only weeks ago in the 20 acre John West blaze.

Wheeler was also pleased to announce a $100,000 grant for sidewalk improvement in Oakhurst has been received from Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds. The sidewalk work will be along Crane Valley Road (426). He also referenced $1.9 million set aside for a bridge replacement on Road 425B— 90% of which will be paid for by the federal government.

On another front, the supervisor and many audience members expressed an immediate need for more volunteer firefighters in the Bass Lake area.

Code of the West

With each important topic explored and all questions answered, the 75 minute session concluded with Wheeler sharing a "special project" he is contemplating — a localized version of an extraordinarily crafted publication entitled, "The Code of the West."

Wheeler, having spent decades living and working in a mountain environment, observed that he continues being amazed at the number of calls and complaints he receives from some new residents expecting all the conveniences and amenities of urban living.

A "Madera County Edition" envisioned by the supervisor would incorporate much of what is already available in a 19 page summary from Siskiyou County informing newcomers about "the realities of rural life."

Readers may encounter such guidelines and realities as:

If you buy or build next to a farm or ranch, expect agricultural activity. The "right to be rural" applies.

Don't move next to a dairy and complain about the smell.

Just because there is a road or driveway does not mean a property has legal access. Some neighbors are just plain rotten and some are saintly, but for either, nail down legal access in writing before your purchase closes.

You do not own your view.

Keep domestic pets confined and protected. A poodle on the deck is "meatloaf with fur" to some wild animals.

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