But tab for fighting fires still tops $566,000 

But tab for fighting fires still tops $566,000

5 December 2009

published by www.lvrj.com

USA — The state of California still owes the Nevada Division of Forestry $566,983 for helping fight its fires, but has paid off its $33,383.01 IOU.


That’s right. California gave the Forestry Division the IOU in lieu of a check or cash in July when it found itself unable to come up with funds to pay its vendors.

The Division of Forestry was considered a vendor since it sent firefighters, including some prison crews, to help California fight fires under an agreement where each state helps the other on big fires.

“We thought we would receive more IOUs,” said Scott Sisco, the deputy state forester.

His agency was the only one in Nevada state government to receive a California IOU, technically called a “registered warrant,” according to the state treasurer’s office.

Neither the city of Las Vegas nor Clark County received any IOUs from California, according to their spokesmen. The county did send some firefighters and equipment to California to help fight a fire in 2007. After a considerable wait, it was paid $160,000.

California’s worst wildland fire torched more than 500,000 acres near San Diego in the fall of 2007. Hundreds of structures were destroyed and damage was estimated at more than $1 billion.

Fires this summer in the Los Angeles area were almost as bad. Two firefighters died in August battling the wildland fire that spread over 336,000 acres.

With Nevada having its own budget problems, Sisco would like to see California pay its remaining debts.

Just this week Nevada’s tax revenue shortfall was pegged at about $60 million in the July through September quarter. Gov. Jim Gibbons has asked agencies to prepare lists showing where they would make reductions. Gibbons probably will soon call the Legislature into special session to deal with the downturn.

“It is a long and cumbersome process to get them to pay,” Sisco said. “We keep sending them bills. It shouldn’t take this long.”

Sisco said California often has fallen behind in paying its bills for Nevada’s help in fire suppression. At the beginning of the year, California’s debt to Nevada topped $2 million, but since has been whittled down.

Nevada State Forester Pete Anderson said his agency won’t stop assisting California fighting fires.

“I’m not concerned about the money,” Anderson said. “They eventually will pay. They are going through tough times, like we are.”

While it stopped giving out IOUs in late August, California’s budget woes remain astronomical. The Los Angeles Times, in a recent report, said the state budget deficit during the next year and a half will be nearly $21 billion.

In early September, Sisco said California gave Nevada interest at a rate of 3.75 percent a year when it paid off the IOU. That was slightly higher than the prime interest rate at the time.

Some of California’s remaining debt to Nevada is for help the Division of Forestry extended in fighting fires in 2007.

The California controller’s office issued 450,000 IOUs totaling $2.6 billion between July 2 and Sept. 4 to vendors and people owed tax refunds. California state employees were not given IOUs. Interest payments stopped after Sept. 4.

Sisco thought the IOU was significant enough that he made a copy as a keepsake before the state redeemed the actual IOU through a bank.

According to Web site accounts, collectors were willing to pay premiums on IOUs that some people received from California.

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