Local News

Wednesday, Dec 04 2013 05:11 PM

City council will consider city-county lawsuits

BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

City attorneys have won a small but significant victory in their lawsuit against the county over money earned providing fire services to residents in unincorporated Kern and a second lawsuit should be filed next month, the Bakersfield City Council will learn at a special meeting Thursday.

A third ongoing lawsuit against the county over nearly $1.3 million the city says it is owed in property tax continues.

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The Bakersfield City Council meets at noon Thursday to take public statements before going into closed session, at City Hall council chambers, 1501 Truxtun Ave. Meetings also may be viewed live on cable channel KGOV. Past meetings can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/qfatap5.

As is customary with discussions of lawsuits brought by the city or filed against it, this one Thursday will take place in closed session.

City officials said the meeting, six days before the last regular city council meeting of the year, is necessary because Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan and possibly another member of the council is expected to be absent next week.

"The county owes us on the second installment for the JPA, so it's a good time to discuss strategy on where they want to go on that," City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said, noting that a judge in Kings County, where the JPA case is being heard, ruled against a demur from county attorneys, keeping the case alive for oral arguments, its next incremental step.

Gennaro said Bakersfield is owed $190,854 for the 2011-2012 fiscal year according to its Joint Powers Agreement with the county of Kern mandating the nearest firefighters to an incident respond.

Attorneys for the city filed a claim in October that is the likely precursor to a second JPA lawsuit, stating the city also is owed $201,434 plus interest for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

City and county officials agree that the county owes the city money for sending city firefighters to county emergencies, and for property tax on the approximately 36 square miles of Kern County land Bakersfield has annexed since 2002.

The question is how much money.

"Both things have very parallel and similar backgrounds. In 2012, new county staff redefined the world and precipitated the lawsuits," City Manager Alan Tandy said. "I don't want to sound totally negative, because there's always the hope that common ground can be found. But it would have to be a fair, equitable common ground."

In the JPA lawsuit, Gennaro and Bakersfield attorney John R. Szewczyk argue that Kern County officials seek "a unilateral change" in how the city calculates how much the county owes it -- despite letting the city take over the calculations, and agreeing with city methodology in 2005.

Kern Chief Deputy County Counsel Mark L. Nations declined to comment, referring a reporter to attorney Brett Price, who represents the county. Price said he disagreed with the city's interpretation of the JPA dispute.

"What happened is when the county went back and looked over the calculations, they found the city had changed the way the county was doing it," Price said. "So, the dispute is over how you do those calculations to determine the share of the revenue."

In the property tax lawsuit, in which nearly $1.3 million is at stake, Gennaro and San Francisco attorney Colin Pearce argue that money for public schools should be deducted from the city's annual property tax payment after it is divided, not before.

Price said doing the deduction after the money is divided means the city gets more money than it should.

That case is being heard in Fresno County,

Members of the Kern County Board of Supervisors and the city council echoed Tandy's comment about solutions.

"I am still hopeful that a resolution can be reached that will not leave this decision to the courts," said Supervisors Chairman Mike Maggard. Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson agreed.

"I think elected officials can accomplish more when they work together, and there is a school of thought that when it comes to working with the county, if we can get the elected officials talking, we can accomplish a lot," Johnson said.

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