Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, May 12 @ 5:01 p.m.
Del Norte Supervisor Allocate $70,000 Toward Tri-Agency's Reboot; Joint Powers Authority's Lender of Last Resort Days Are In The Past, Proponents Say
- Del Norte Supervisors Diverge On Tri-Agency Contribution
- Del Norte County Considers Reviving 'Defunct' JPA That Defaulted on a USDA Debt After a Revolving Loan Program Failed
Three Del Norte County supervisors on Tuesday voted to earmark $70,000 in the 2023-24 budget as the county’s contribution to the Tri-Agency Economic Authority.
The joint powers authority has paid off an outstanding U.S. Department of Agriculture loan and is working to reboot, County Counsel Joel Campbell-Blair said.
Setting aside $70,000 as a line item in the county budget would require the Board of Supervisors to vote again before it’s allocated to the Tri-Agency, Campbell-Blair said. That could happen when the JPA finalizes its work plan and bylaws, he said.
But supervisors Joey Borges and Valerie Starkey weren’t convinced.
Borges said he didn’t understand why the Tri-Agency’s other members, Crescent City and the Crescent City Harbor District, didn’t contribute equal shares. He said he also opposes offshore wind energy development, one of the JPA’s new focuses.
Starkey said she wanted to be sure that the Tri-Agency had abandoned its former practice of being a lender of last resort.
“Have there been changes in the bylaws to ensure that the mistakes that were previously made through being the lender of last resort — that whole scenario — has that been changed to make sure we are not repeating those same mistakes?” Starkey asked. “I understand nobody on this board was there when those mistakes were made, but had there been something specific in the bylaws, it’s possible those mistakes would not have occurred.”
Starkey also wanted to be sure the Tri-Agency was reaching out to Del Norte’s tribal communities, pointing they also were doing much to advance economic development in the area.
Created following the 1964 tsunami, the Tri-Agency had operated two revolving loan programs, one funded with $400,000 in USDA Rural Development loan dollars. The Tri-Agency defaulted on that loan in 2011, though that debt has since been resolved.
In its spring 2023 work plan, the Tri-Agency mentions comprehensive economic development strategies the city, county and harbor prepared as well as a Community Economic Resiliency Fund pilot program that could bring $6.5 million to $7 million to Del Norte County.
The Tri-Agency is also partnering with the University of California Cooperative Extension and will hire an economic development director as well as a grant writer. The JPA also plans to conduct an “overarching economic impact analysis of wind energy on Del Norte,” according to its work plan.
“Transmission and landing will be important areas for the Tri-Agency to study to get the most benefit for Del Norte and to facilitate easy installation,” the JPA’s work plan states. “With legal and physical restrictions on most transmission corridors, this agency has an opportunity to influence where transmission will be directed. There is (the) possibility for landing fees or discounted power which could provide ongoing benefits for Del Norte.”
The JPA’s current members have no interest in being a lender of last resort again, District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard told Starkey. Howard and his colleague Dean Wilson represent the county on the Tri-Agency Board.
“Those responsibilities became shared between the (Economic Development Authority) and Tri-Agency which left Tri-Agency holding the bag,” Howard said. “That is not a position I personally want to be in and I’m almost 100 percent positive Supervisor Wilson does not want to be a lender of last resort. That’s why you see it’s currently nowhere within the work plan.”
Howard said that while previous contribution requests have had the city kicking in $30,000 and the harbor pitching in $10,000, that is also up for discussion. Crescent City Mayor Pro Tem had proposed the city having a contribution closer to $50,000 or $60,000, Howard told Starkey.
The Harbor District’s contribution last year was $25,000, Howard said.
“The city, for the most part, does not have the same obligations as the county (does) to provide the level of services that we obviously do,” he said. “They have room in their budget through their various alternatives to promote their community and they have the ability because their general fund’s so robust with (Transiency Occupancy Tax revenues).”
He argued that other programs spearheaded by the Tri-Agency, specifically broadband, put Del Norte County “ahead of the curve” compared to other rural communities.
Wilson said he felt having the Tri-Agency could be a driver for economic development that could include local tribes and other potential members. Speaking to the issue of offshore wind farms, Wilson said while he doesn’t like them, they’re already coming.
“It has the potential to be very beneficial, to revitalize our harbors, our ports and our industry here,” Wilson said. “But if we don’t have a voice at the table and we don’t have a vehicle to push forward that voice … having that forefront to push forward as a united front through that Tri-Agency, that’s where we’re looking at.”
Starkey, however, pointed out that the county’s economic development strategy, or CEDS, is something that other agencies are working on as well. She mentioned the Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, the broadband middle mile project and the Redwood Coast Transit Authority.
“There’s a lot we are doing in this CEDS without the need for the Tri-Agency,” she said.
The $70,000 line item will appear in the county’s 2023-24 budget. The Board of Supervisors will get a first look at the recommended budget in June and will adopt the finalized budget in September.