The California State Department of Fish and Wildlife owes Yolo County $1.4 million for the management of the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, accumulated over the last 13 years.
“Our wildlife areas are state-owned, so these payments are in lieu of taxes. They may have a tight budget, but these fees haven’t been paid in over 10 years,” said Cindy Tuttle, Yolo County’s manager of Inter-Governmental Relations.
The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is located in the heart of the Pacific Flyway, and part of the Yolo Basin, a natural basin in the north part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is “more than 17,770 acres and is part wildlife area, part outdoor education experience, and part birders’ paradise all in one,” stated the website for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Birders, hunters and schoolchildren all come to the area to experience wildlife up-close in nature.”
This is the only wildlife reserve in Yolo County, and so it is the closest reserve to the UC Davis campus to be utilized for student and faculty use.
“It is important that the state help manage the wildlife area because students and future generations need to understand first-hand how nature affects humans and other species internationally and locally,” said Tony Blanco, second-year wildlife, fish and conservation biology major. “State-funded areas like this, Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon exhibit a stark contrast to city blocks and urban areas.”
Since the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is state-owned, the state must pay a certain amount for the county to manage the area.
This plan of payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILT) was established in 1949 to offset the adverse impacts to county property tax revenues.
“The state is required to pay according to Fish and Game Code 1504, which states that income derived by state as Wildlife Management must pay annually,” said Beth Gabor, Yolo County Public Information Officer.
According to the PILT press release, Fish and Game Code 1504 specifies that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife shall pay annually to the county in which the property is located, an amount equal to the county taxes levied upon the property at the time the title was transferred to the state.
“The State of California has a great desire to partner with Yolo County on projects in the bypass including fish run, restoring fish habitat, restoring the delta and plans that involve mitigation,” said Matt Rexroad, Yolo County supervisor.
However, because the Department of Fish and Wildlife has been very elusive about paying their dues, it may strain their relationship with Yolo County.
“As an elected official, it makes me less trustful of them (the state) and less likely to want to partner with them, especially when they have promised repeatedly to pay their bills and still haven’t,” Rexroad said.
If the state continues to evade paying this $1.4 million invoice, the costs are greater to the county itself as far as managing the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, which affects the distribution of money that should go elsewhere.
“The properties come off of tax rolls,” Tuttle said. “It allows both the county and the state to sustain economic viability. Our board of supervisors feels that it’s very important to attain because when we receive PILT payments, it is distributed like any other tax.”
The payments on the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area affect not only the management of the wildlife area itself, but the surrounding community.
“All other organizations supported by tax revenues are impacted,” Tuttle said. “The Fire District receives a percent [as does] resource conservation, the school [and] mosquito control.”
So by withholding the funds due to Yolo County for the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, the state is indirectly withholding funds from the City of Davis and UC Davis.
Yolo County is one of 36 counties in California affected by this payment evasion. The state owes over $17 million in total.
“I joined several of my colleagues in the California Legislature in writing a bipartisan letter to Gov. [Jerry] Brown requesting that the 2014-15 state budget include funds to pay the delinquent reimbursements,” said Mariko Yamada, California State Assemblymember in a letter to Supervisor Duane Chamberlain.
The letter to Gov. Brown was signed by 23 assembly members of various districts to urge the funding of these overdue bills.
The state has yet to answer or give any indication of intentions to pay these overdue fines. The district officials of the affected counties also have given no indication of their next plan of action.