Union Democrat staff

In an era of limits brought by our long-running recession, there is one thing that, at least to date, seems limitless.

Rain and snow.

They've been falling in near-record amounts on the Mother Lode and Sierra since before Thanksgiving, and threaten to break the back of a drought which had gripped California for the past three years.

Although thousands of Arnold- and Twain Harte-area residents left without power by November's storms may disagree, the epic precipitation is a good thing. The Sierra snowpack is already at nearly 60 percent of its seasonal average, and January, February and March still lie ahead.

Come summer, however, all of us will appreciate the benefits of the year's storms: Reservoir storage will be up, more water will be available for irrigation, the spectre of rationing will evaporate and forest fire danger will drop.

So look back on the soggy Christmas of 2010 as a blessing. And wish for more rain and snow - with far fewer power outages - for the new year.

A few more blessings, mixed and otherwise, for the holiday season:

Class act: Rail Road Flat School, over the past few years has

teetered on the brink of closure thanks to low attendance. Now the

school is doing something about it.

Classes with perfect attendance can hang honor flags outside their

doors. Those with the most full houses each week win a trophy, and

those with the best performance each quarter get a pizza party. And

everyday the entire student body of 81 shows up, each kid gets 10

minutes of extra recess.

The plan works. One second/third-grade combination class recently

went 18 days without an empty desk and attendance overall is up. Which,

because school funding is based on average daily attendance, just might

help Calaveras County's smallest school survive.

More importantly, being at school helps kids learn.

Farm aid: There has been little good news of late concerning the

Williamson Act, a decades-old state law that give a property tax break

to ranchers or farmers who sign annual contracts to keep their acreage

in agricultural use.

State subsidies paid to counties have in the past made up for

revenue losses, but in these tough budgetary times those funds always

seem to be the first on the chopping block. Last year not a cent in

subsidies was budgeted, but rather than discontinue the valuable

program, Tuolumne and Calaveras absorbed the losses.

This year, the outlook is better. State subsidies are back in the

budget, although the $10 million allocated statewide pales in contrast

with the $35 million agricultural counties shared in pre-recession


Still, the move is evidence Sacramento hasn't forgotten

California's farmers and ranchers and that, when the economy improves,

so might funding for the Williamson Act.

Trash talk: Self-haulers - those who truck their garbage to Waste

Management's Mono Village transfer station - may not be happy with the

rate increase recently levied by the Tuolumne County Board of


But thousands of customers on the company's truck routes were this

summer hit with an increase of about $4 to $24.53 a month. It is only

fair that self-haulers, who haven't seen a rate hike in a decade, pay

their share.

First, the board imposed a $4 gate fee for anyone using the

Industrial Drive facility. Then it approved a $2.40 increase, from

$12.60 to $15 per cubic yard.

For a hauler bringing in a small pickup load of trash, this amounts

to an increase of more than 50 percent - from $12.60 to $19. But

because the gate fee remains constant for all loads and because rates

for more than a ton are rising only marginally, larger loads are a

better deal.

Also, many self-haulers probably generate less than a cubic yard of

trash per month, dumping at the transfer station remains a good deal

for those taking the trouble to do it.

Finally, all of those generating trash should share in the costs of

getting rid of it, including guaranteeing Waste Management a fair

profit, paying for closure of the county's landfill and apprehending

those who illegally dump their own trash on our hillsides and in our