April 2, 2013 — Lassen County District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman and local forester Phil Nemir have been pressing the Lassen County Fire Safe Council for more information regarding its financial statements at recent board meetings.
At its March 26 meeting the board, by a 3-1 vote approved sending a letter to the Fire Safe Council seeking additional information relating to how Title III grant money in Lassen County was spent.
The board found the original draft of the letter a bit intimidating and made several corrections including making its request to the Fire Safe Council and not Tom Esgate, its executive director who also serves as a contractor and a grant writer.
The Fire Safe Council sometimes uses funding received from the county to obtain matching grants from other sources.
Esgate said the Fire Safe Council’s books are audited each year, and it always receives a positive audit and he believes the relationship between his agency and the county is slipping. Esgate said the Fire Safe Council and the county should be partners, but the board’s request makes him uneasy. He said the Fire Safe Council wants to build a positive relationship with the board, and he invited the supervisors to attend the Fire Safe Council board meetings and ask any questions they have there.
Chapman did not attend the supervisor’s meeting, but District 1 Supervisor Bob Pyle said the board cannot answer Neimer’s questions about the Fire Safe Council’s activities because it does not have the information.
But he added since the board of supervisors is the entity that is the source of the money the public has a right to know exactly how the Title III money distributed in Lassen County is being spent. He said the answers can only come from the Fire Safe Council.
Esgate said the whole problem is because of one person who is trying to make life difficult for the nonprofit corporation that conducts a number of educational and fuel reduction projects across the Western United States.
After Nemir requested a more detailed budget because the amount requested was larger than the amount of funds available, the Fire Safe Council withdrew its request for Title III funding currently under consideration. District 3 Supervisor Larry Wosick asked that the issue come back before the board later this month.
There’s no question the Fire Safe Council’s activities have done a great deal to reduce danger from catastrophic wildfires in Lassen County and educated the public and land owners about how to reduce the fire danger on their individual pieces of ground.
These vital efforts should continue, and if the organization no longer seeks funding from county funds, it’s unlikely new projects would be developed in our region. That would be an unfortunate development.
But at the same time, Neimer, a member of the public, and the supervisors have a right to get the answer to any question they have regarding the expenditure of taxpayer money, and nothing should stand in the way of those disclosures.
We trust the board and the council can find a way to resolve these matters once and for all.
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