LAO 2005-06 Budget Analysis: General Government

Analysis of the 2005-06 Budget Bill

Legislative Analyst's Office
February 2005

Sierra Nevada Conservancy (3855)

The Sierra Nevada Conservancy was established by statute in 2004. The conservancy will undertake projects and make grants and loans for various public purposes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including increasing tourism and recreation; protecting cultural, archaeological, and historical resources; reducing the risk of natural disasters; and protecting and improving water and air quality.

The budget proposes total expenditures of $3.6 million from two sources, the Environmental License Plate Fund ($3.4 million) and reimbursements ($200,000), and 20.5 positions (13.5 personnel-years) to activate this conservancy in 2005-06.

Start-Up Expenditures Should Be Made Limited-Term

The budget proposes $3.6 million to activate the conservancy. We recommend the adoption of budget bill language specifying that the expenditure authority for about $1.2 million of start-up costs is for a limited term.

Background. Chapter 726, Statutes of 2004 (AB 2600, Leslie), established the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. The mission of the conservancy is to preserve and restore significant natural, cultural, archaeological, recreational, and working landscape resources (farms, ranches, and forests) in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The conservancy's jurisdiction covers 25 million acres and is divided into six subregions. In the next few months, the conservancy will begin its start-up activities, such as determining a headquarters location and initiating an executive director search.

The conservancy's initial focus (in the next two years) will be undertaking and facilitating a strategic program planning process involving meetings and workshops within each of the subregions, with the purpose of formulating strategic program objectives and priorities within that subregion. Chapter 726 requires these activities in order to encourage local involvement and participation in the conservancy's activities.

Budget Proposal. Of the $3.6 million proposed to activate the conservancy in 2005-06, $948,000 is for personal services (salaries, wages, and benefits) and $2.6 million is for operating expenses and equipment. This proposal assumes a phased-in approach to staffing and operating expenses. Therefore, it is projected that for fiscal year 2006-07, full-year costs for the conservancy will total about $4 million—$1.5 million for personal services (31 positions [20.5 PYs]) and $2.5 million for operating expenses.

Included in the budget-year proposal are two sets of expenditures that are appropriately characterized as "start-up" expenditures. These are (1) $567,000 for program and guideline development, which includes the statutorily required workshops throughout the subregions and the detailed assessments of local general plans and water plans by external consultants, and (2) $586,000 for equipment.

Start-Up Expenditure Authority Should Not Be Considered Part of Baseline Budget. We estimate that it will likely take about two years to develop programs and guidelines. Therefore, we do not think that the $567,000 proposed for these activities should be included as a baseline expenditure of the conservancy. Similarly, the $586,000 for equipment, as a one-time cost, should also not be included in the conservancy's baseline budget. For these reasons, we recommend the adoption of the following budget bill language to make this expenditure authority available for a limited term:

Item 3855-001-0140. Of the amount appropriated in this item, $567,000 for external consulting for program and guideline development and $586,000 for equipment are limited to terms of two years and one year, respectively.

Coordination of Sierra Nevada Grant Programs

The Secretary for Resources and the conservancy both have the authority to administer grants in the Sierra Nevada region. We recommend the adoption of supplemental report language requiring the agency and the conservancy to report on their plans for coordinating these programs.

Sierra Nevada Grant Programs. Chapter 726 also provides the conservancy with the authority to issue grants to public agencies and nonprofit organizations for planning activities, land acquisition, and site improvement projects. The Secretary for Resources also administers a grant program, the Sierra Nevada Cascade Grant Program, for these purposes. The jurisdiction of the conservancy's and the secretary's programs overlap, but are not identical (the secretary's program jurisdiction is greater than that of the conservancy's).

Recommend Plan for Coordination Be Developed. It is important that these two grant programs coordinate their efforts in order to avoid duplication of administrative efforts and in order to ensure that the grants are consistent with both organizations' priorities in the region. A plan for this coordination is not included in the budget proposal. This is reasonable given that the conservancy has not yet been activated. For this reason, we recommend the adoption of the following supplemental report language, under the budget item of both the Secretary for Resources and the conservancy, directing the agency and the conservancy to report on their coordination plans in regards to administering grants in the Sierra Nevada region.

Item 0540-001-6031 and Item 3855-001-0140. The Secretary for Resources, in consultation with the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, shall submit a plan for the coordination of grant programs in the Sierra Nevada region to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee and the fiscal committees of both houses of the Legislature by December 1, 2005.

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