El Dorado Builder's win first round to keep measure on ballot

PLACERVILLE - The El Dorado Builders' Exchange won the first round of its battle with the county to keep Measure H on the November ballot.

On Wednesday, Judge Richard Haugner denied the county's request for a writ to stop the measure from going to voters. Measure H, if passed, would allocate half of the county's Vehicle License Fees to county road maintenance.

El Dorado County Counsel Louis Green said the county is still trying to evaluate Haugner's decision. Green claims the judge accepted the county's legal position that the board has the right to control its own budget, but questioned whether Measure H would really tie the board's discretionary hands.

"It's amazing that the judge agreed with us and then made the ruling that he did," Supervisor Sam Bradley said. Bradley said the Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting at 3 p.m. Friday to discuss an appeal to the decision.

Supervisor Ray Nutting and Exchange representatives said they were happy county residents will be able to vote on the measure.

"I am just so elated," Nutting said. "This will give the people of Tahoe and Meyers the opportunity to get money to fix these gosh-darn roads."

Henry Batsel, Exchange board member, said the judge decided in favor of the Exchange because he deemed the matter was not a budgetary issue.

"This is a big win for the voters," Batsel said. "The decision reiterated the arrogance of the Board of Supervisors that they don't want to do what they need to do. Now we have to convince the sheriff and the firefighters that they're not being robbed by this initiative."

The Builders' Exchange filed Measure H in April and the board voted unanimously on July 25 to place the measure on the November ballot. Three weeks later the county filed a lawsuit against the Exchange, claiming Measure H would tie the board's discretionary hands and would pull significantly from the county's emergency services.

Exchange Executive Director Karen Kitchens said the court's decision was a bittersweet victory. Kitchens said the 1999-2000 Grand Jury told the supervisors months earlier there was a need for more general fund money to go to deteriorating road conditions, but the county still contested Measure H.

"I'm thrilled and irritated at the same time that the board pulled all of this," Kitchens said. "They knew all of what the Grand Jury found and they still went ahead with this lawsuit against us. It was a waste of taxpayers' money and a waste of our time."

The Grand Jury Report, which was adopted in June, found no improper or wasteful use of road maintenance funds, but discovered the Department of Transportation was not receiving enough money to properly maintain the roads.

The report also stated that inflation-adjusted funding for road maintenance decreased by about 21 percent over the last nine years while there was no decrease in required maintenance. It also found that during the past 10 years, transportation revenues decreased because of reductions in timber tax funds, Federal Forest Reserve funds, vehicle code fines and general fund money.

The Jury recommended the Board of Supervisors reprioritize county expenditures, allocate a portion of general fund money, allocate a portion of Motor Vehicle fees and consider alternatives before requesting voter approval of a tax increase to fund road maintenance.

No board members could be reached to comment on how they responded to the Grand Jury's findings or recommendations.


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