Lacey Peterson
The Union Democrat

Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority officials approved a budget plan, a contract extension with the Central Sierra Economic Development District and heard a presentation about Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown, on a state closure list due to budget cuts.

At its regular board meeting Friday, the TCEDA board approved a budget plan for 2011, 2012, and 2013, which will now be sent to the Sonora City Council and the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors, for further review.

TCEDA Director Larry Cope gave an overview of the budget including revenues, expenditures, staff costs, future costs and obligations like employee retirement contributions and vacations, project costs and revenues from the city and county.

The total revenues including local funding and grant funding, donations

and other funds for the 2011 budget year are $237,599 and $332,499 for

2012 and $331,642 for 2013.

The salaries and benefits range from $181,7892 in 2011 to 219,892

by 2013. Expenditures including project costs, project reserves,

building and improvement, computer equipment, tally $237,599 in 2011

and are proposed to be $331,642 by 2013.

The estimated year end expenses for this budget year will be

$22,000 under budget, Cope told board members. Of that, $5,061 will go

to the City of Sonora and $16,944 will go to Tuolumne County.

Next year TCEDA anticipates $25,000 in revenues from the Central

Sierra Economic Development District for a five-year Comprehensive

Economic Development Strategy.

A three-year $50,000 federal grant was recently awarded to CSEDD,

which will be paid to TCEDA in two payments, according to Cope's

director's report.

CSEDD is one of five economic development districts in the state

and works on behalf of five counties and seven cities. The CSEDD board

is in a one-year agreement with TCEDA, set to expire in June, to

complete unfinished reports when the four-person staff were laid off in

June 2011 because of financial troubles.

The $50,000 grant will pay for infrastructure projects in member

counties and cities that relate to sewer, water connector roads,

broadband gaps, biomass, waste to energy and forest projects. Two main

criteria for these projects must be long-term job creation and

collaboration with public and private entities. Engineering, planning

studies and land acquisition also may be eligible for funding.

The CEDS will be completed by June 30 and TCEDA will call for bids

on a two-year contract to administer the CSEDD, with an option to

extend for three additional years. TCEDA will likely submit a bid and

Cope said Friday he didn't expect many agencies to respond to the

competitive Request for Proposals.

"Whatever entity will have to provide in-kind match," Cope said.

Board member Dick Pland asked, "Larry is this a profit setter or is it just a wash?"

"It's paying for itself," Cope replied, but added that "It can't" make substantial profit.

"It would make revenue to EDA (Economic Development Authority) in

respect to time spent. Yes, it would bring in more revenue than it

would cost for labor," Cope said.

He added that competitive grants could be incentive for businesses to come to Tuolumne County and the region.

"If this goes away, each project could get EDA money but would have to show need," Cope said.

The board voted to extend the contract period with CSEDD to complete the CEDS and do annual audits of the district.

"If there's no objection, we'll play in this game," board chair Hank Russell said.

In other business, Cope gave an overview of the TCEDA activities and efforts including a micro enterprise program.

Friday's meeting was held at Railtown and park Superintendent Kim

Baker gave a presentation on the park and the costs and revenues and

overview of volunteer and staff responsibilities in keeping the living

steam engine park afloat.

The park is in danger of closure and Tuolumne County Administrator

Craig Pedro discussed how a Transient Occupancy Tax on June's ballot

would benefit Railtown and the Mother Lode Fairgrounds for three years.

It would affect privately run campgrounds, houseboats and RV parks in

addition to local hotels and motels.

The tax charges guests of local hotels, motels and similar

businesses 10 percent per room to help fund local services and tourism

marketing efforts.

Department of Parks and Recreation included Railtown on a list of 70 state parks set to close this summer.

Baker said park officials have begun to look into the costs of

closing the park and they would far outweigh the costs of keeping it

open and would drain the park's reserves and limit future endeavors.

Occupancy-tax funds now go toward public services like roads, law

enforcement, fire, emergency services and recreation. The Tuolumne

County Visitors Bureau receives 25 percent of the tax money as well.

The county now raises about $2 million per year through the lodging

tax and say up to $350,000 additional dollars could be raised.

"The peripheral issue is keeping Railtown and the fairgrounds.

There is going to be a lot of effort to make that happen ... It's a

worthwhile thing to get done," Pland said.

Pedro said "it's critical to the (local) economy" to keep the

fairgrounds and Railtown." The fairgrounds are also facing state cuts.

Baker said the 150 volunteers provide 27,000 hours of service a year to keep the park open.

The TCEDA board also set a date and time for its public hearing for

the 2012-13 budget proposal for 10:30 a.m. May 11 at Evergreen Lodge,

past Groveland.

Contact Lacey Peterson at or 588-4529.