ERAF help bill in limbo

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A bill aimed at forgiving most of a total $1.3 million debt to the state owed by several Tuolumne County fire departments has hit a roadblock in a California Senate committee.

The Senate Appropriations Committee suspended a vote on the bill Monday, citing uncertainties over the state budget as reason to shelve it temporarily, according to Tuolumne County Clerk Tim Johnson.

Johnson, who attended the hearing in Sacramento, said Committee Chair Sen. Dede Alpert and committee member Sen. John Burton assured him they would pass the bill as soon as Gov. Gray Davis and the Legislature approve a state budget.

"It sounds like they are committed to getting this done," Johnson said. "I felt good about it."

However, the bill would die when the legislative session ends Aug. 31 if it does not move out of committee and win approval of the Senate, Johnson said.

The bill, AB 3056, would reduce debts owed by all Tuolumne County fire departments that received excess funds because of a county accounting error in the 1990s. The money should have been directed to the state's Education Revenue Augmentation Fund instead of the fire departments.

Groveland Community Services District and Twain Harte Community Services District received the most money because of the error, said Assistant County Auditor Deborah Russell.

GCSD was overpaid $970,000 while the Twain Harte district was overpaid $184,000.

Fire departments in Columbia, Jamestown, Mi-Wuk Village-Sugar Pine and Tuolumne also received overpayments from the error.

GCSD's debt would be reduced to about $45,000 if the bill is approved this summer, GCSD General Manager Jeff Winner has said.

Relief legislation would reduce the Twain Harte to $16,000, Russell has said.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, would also reduce the debts of service districts in Madera County that were overpaid through a similar accounting error.

The Union Democrat
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