Supes, VFW resolve building dispute
A county staffer who asked not to be identified confirmed VFW Commander John Evertt accepted the county’s offer Monday, July 2. Everett declined to comment on the record for this story.
After the VFW declined a previous settlement offer from the county, the Lassen County Board of Supervisors agendized the matter for its June 19 meeting.
“I’m hoping we can resolve this reimbursement issue today,” said Felix Flores, a VFW trustee. “I think I’ve given you the necessary tools to make a decision.”
Flores said he had provided all the receipts and documentation requested by the county to Martin Nichols, the county administrative officer.
Flores said the VFW suffered, “a long stream of misrepresentation” according to state, federal and county regulations and statements made by the county’s former economic development director.
“I’m hoping you made the decision,” Flores said, “I think, the veterans down in South Lassen County to be reimbursed the monies that we proved and showed you that came out of our donations by the local community and by other business leaders within our community donating different resources to keep us going.”
Hanson said the VFW had asked for $15,443.02 to reimburse it for “building maintenance expenses.”
Flores said his understanding was on May 8 the county was going to reimburse the VFW approximately $22,000 if it provided documentation of its expenses.
“I thought it was agreeable,” Flores said. “I thought that’s what we were going to do … Now we’re back to square one. I think we justified it. It’s a tough call. I’m not going to lie. It’s a tough call. You take the responsibility that you had faith in your staff. It’s very difficult, but at the same time we have to move forward, and we have to do the right thing.”
Flores encouraged the board to make a decision based on the facts — not opinions or personalities.
At its June 19 meeting, the board considered three separate motions to make another settlement offer to the VFW. Two motions passed and one failed.
The board voted unanimously to reimburse the VFW $1,659.17 for the cost of a survey and interest that actually was paid for by a federal grant the county received.
Chapman said the VFW building was identified for use by the veterans group at the very beginning of the Local Reuse Authority process in which the county received excess Sierra Army Depot property from the federal government.
According to Chapman, all the entities receiving property in Herlong were to pay their share of the site survey, and from the beginning the VFW was not considered part of the county.
“This was not a county veterans’ building,” Chapman said. “This was not part of anything the county was providing.”
According to Chapman, the county only became involved because the Army wanted to work with one entity that would distribute the properties.
After the parties had been assessed for the site survey, Chapman said the county received a grant to fund the survey, and the VFW was the only organization to pay its assessment.
“By any right, they should never have been assessed, and that assessment should have been refunded back then,” Chapman said.
But Chapman said he would oppose reimbursement of the utility bills and the building maintenance costs because the VFW never was a county building as are the VFW halls in Susanville and Bieber.
The district 2 supervisor said he agreed with Lassen County Counsel’s opinion that any reimbursement of funds beyond the cost of the site survey was a gift of public funds, and he was not going to support it.
Pyle argued the building was still part of the Lassen Reuse Authority (LRA) and the board was liable for representations made by county staff.
Chapman said the board never agreed to take on responsibility for the VFW building for 15 years.
By a 4-1 vote the board also agreed to reimburse the VFW $6,703.60 for utility bills from 1998 through 2012. During that time period, the county paid utility bills for other businesses and entities under the jurisdiction of the LRA in Herlong, but not the VFW.
District 1 Supervisor Bob Pyle, District 3 Supervisor Larry Wosick, District 4 Supervisor Brian Dahle and District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson voted aye. District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman voted no.
By a 3-2 vote, the board balked at paying the VFW an additional not-to-exceed $8,000 for a remodel of the building and a new roof — provided the VFW could provide receipts for the work.
Flores said he’d already provided that information to the county.
Chapman said the VFW was able to get the roof done so cheaply because the building wasn’t under the county’s control and the veterans’ group was able to use means that would not be available to the county.
Chapman, Hanson and Dahle voted no, and Wosick and Pyle voted aye.
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