Tuolumne County’s main reserve fund got an unexpected 25 percent increase thanks to a recent $800,000 grant from the state of California for costs associated with removing dead trees.

The county Board of Supervisors approved putting $420,409 from the grant back into the county’s General Reserves, which support the $74 million General Fund that pays for most core government services. That brings the reserves from about $1.6 million to just over $2 million.

Last year, the board moved $670,495 from the reserves to cover the county’s portion of the cost for removing dead trees.

About 75 percent of the costs are covered through the California Disaster Assistance Act after Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the tree mortality crisis in October 2015, part of the fallout from the epic drought of the previous five years.

“The size of this grant is a clear tribute to the effort put on by our tree mortality team,” said District 2 Supervisor Randy Hanvelt, adding that some of the other 10 high hazard counties identified in Brown’s order are just barely getting started on their work.
Deputy County Administrator Tracie Riggs explained the funding was provided by the California Office of Emergency Services through an additional $6 million in the state budget for high-hazard counties.

A total of more than 3,000 dead or dying trees have been removed through the county’s efforts since July 2016, according to a report shared with the State Tree Mortality Task Force in November.

Only trees on public land or threatening public roads and infrastructure are eligible for the funding from the state.

In addition to moving the money back into reserves, the board also gave direction to county staff who are beginning the process of conducting a study of fees charged for services provided by the various departments.

The county is allowed to charge fees for services that benefit a particular individual or organization to cover the costs associated with providing those services.

District 4 Supervisor John Gray said he would like to see the study include fees charged for comparable services in other counties, specifically for those related to development like building permits.

“It’s important for the public and everyone to know what we are charging but also what they’re charging in other areas,” he said.

The board is tentatively scheduled to receive results for each department that charges the fees and consider changing them if necessary during regular monthly meetings from January through March.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.