Union Democrat staff

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County budget decisions bring personal hardships

Downsizing government. Workforce reductions. Flattening the organization. All are buzz words in the "new normal" of our battered economic climate. In the shadow of the hard statistics, accounting adjustments and budget balancing lies the devastating human toll suffered by local government employees and the loss of a job/career. Some will recover quickly. Some will move into semi-retirement. Some will re-locate. All will face different measures of financial, family and emotional hardship.

None of this is lost on administrators like Tuolumne County CAO Craig Pedro and Calaveras County CAO Jeanne Boyce. They would much prefer cutting operating expenses - not personnel - and their stress and concern is evident throughout the budgeting process. This reluctant but necessary responsibility of staff cutbacks also weighs heavily on county department heads and county supervisors.

Two of the more well-known and high-profile individuals who will be moving on due to staff reductions and re-organization are Peter Rei, Tuolumne County Public Works director and Kathleen Rustrum, senior administrative analyst for the county.

Rei came to his position in May 1999.Dealing with road re-paving, bridge repair and snow removal is always a lightning rod for complaints and controversy. Most recently, declining revenues, resources and personnel made his job especially difficult.On top of that, he was tasked with the multi-year challenge of sealing off the Jamestown Landfill; securing contracts and funding from Caltrans and the feds while complying with various environmental regulations. Rei is a seasoned, competent and capable engineer and administrator who tackled complex issues and served the county well.

Rustrum is transitioning out of the CAO's office after 11 years in county government. She has served most recently as the county's Emergency Services Coordinator and was a tremendous resource during the devastating snow storms that slammed our region just months ago. She also served as administrator of the county's Public Power Agency. Rustrum was often assigned as a liaison officer to local advocacy groups and community organizations. She is a terrific ambassador for Tuolumne County government and highly respected in the community.

To Rei and Rustrum - and their colleagues whose jobs were also set aside - we say thanks for your contributions to local government and to our community.

On Highway J-59: Caltrans bluffs; lawmakers fold

Local officials and county taxpayers have long grown weary of unfunded mandates, onerous state regulations and rejection of funding requests from Sacramento. Our state legislature has to be the most dysfunctional and disappointing group of lawmakers ever assembled. So why should we be surprised if they fail us once again? Well, they did.

A bill proposed by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) to have Caltrans adopt 12 miles of J-59 (La Grange Road) into the state highway system "died" in committee. There should have been a routine, logical progression and approval of this bill through the 17-member State Assembly committee on appropriations. It didn't happen.

After spending more than $4 million dollars in federal funds to resurface J-59 recently, Tuolumne County sought to turn over this stretch of road to the state for on-going maintenance. J-59 meets all the criteria for conversion to the state highway system. It is truly a regional road that links local motorists to both Merced and to Highway 99 and Southern California - as well as to roads leading west to the Bay Area.

Tuolumne County CAO Craig Pedro argued that the county has been maintaining that road for years when it should have been the state's responsibility. We editorialized back in January that now is the time for Caltrans to assume its proper responsibility based on "logic, common sense and J-59's superb current condition." Yet logic and common sense didn't prevail - perhaps due to Caltrans gold-plated, roadwork calculator. Where the Tuolumne County Public Works department estimates it costs local taxpayers $35,600 a year to maintain that stretch of highway, Caltrans estimates it would cost the state $180,000. Pedro clearly believes the appropriations committee voted down the bill based on inaccurate and inflated cost estimates provided by Caltrans. "They put in grossly overstated costs for maintaining that road," Pedro said.

And sadly, that's how our state government conducts the "peoples' business" day after day.