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City of St. Helena

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Napa County this month granted Measure A flood control sales tax money to St. Helena for the first time since 2010, with county officials finally satisfied with the city’s spending story.

The Napa County Flood Protection and Watershed Improvement Authority on Dec. 19 made $5.3 million available to the city. St. Helena will use the money to help repay a state loan that helped pay for its $37 million flood control project.

“This is kind of a very momentous thing for us to actually say we’ve gotten through this process and we’re ready to start providing them their funds for future drawdowns,” county Auditor-Controller Tracy Schulze said.

Napa County voters in 1998 passed the Measure A flood control and watershed improvement half-cent sales tax. Each city and town receives the proceeds generated within its boundaries, with the authority overseeing the disbursements.

For example, the city of Napa used Measure A money to help build its “Living River” downtown flood control project, including the new bypass. St. Helena has focused on flood prevention along the Napa River, Sulphur Creek, York Creek and other tributaries.

But St. Helena’s flood control spending became a tangled tale that has been hard to unravel because of incomplete accounting records.

Schulze said St. Helena’s recent effort to reconcile its Measure A finances has been inspected by the Measure A Financial Oversight Committee. The watchdog committee consists of 17 citizens appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

“They feel very confident that the recommendations are valid, that we’ve done our due diligence, that St. Helena is on the up-and-up and has spent the Measure A funds appropriately,” Schulze said.

County supervisors sit on the Flood Protection and Watershed Improvement Authority. Supervisor Diane Dillon said St. Helena’s recent financial woes have been somewhat embarrassing to her, but she was smiling at this particular meeting.

“As a resident of the city, I think we’ve really seen a turn and a shift and things are being well-attended to,” Dillon said.

In 2014, the Federal Emergency Management Agency required St. Helena to reimburse $1.9 million in federal flood control money. Meanwhile, Schulze notified the city that it could no longer draw down on its Measure A money until it fulfilled debt reserve requirements for bonds it had taken out, ensuring the authority wouldn’t default on the debt.

April Mitts became city Finance Director in November 2014. She said an auditor that same month noted a $1.6 million deficit existed in the city’s flood control account. She didn’t know why, leading to research to try to untangled various financial maneuvers involving various funding sources.

“All the funds were comingled, so it was very difficult to find out what funding came in and paid for what particular flood control project,” Mitts told the authority.

These events led to the city and Schulze working to identify which flood control categories were eligible for the various funding sources. The city then had an independent auditor look at the results.

“I feel completely confident that Measure A funds earned and received by the city of St. Helena have been utilized correctly,” Schulze wrote in a report. “The accounting may not be as accurate or as complete as we would desire or expect, but the detailed breakdown of all invoices clearly show enough costs were incurred on allowable expenses.”

Then she added words welcome to the city.

“My final recommendation is that we move forward and close this chapter of review for St. Helena,” Schulze wrote.

With that, the authority approved allowing St. Helena to have $5.3 million of Measure A funds. The city will use $1 million to reimburse the city general fund for past state loan repayments and $4.3 million for future repayments. The latest disbursement brings St. Helena’s Measure A total to $23.5 million.

St. Helena Public Works Director Erica Ahmann Smithies told the authority the flood control project worked as it should during last winter’s big storms.

Also on Dec. 19, the county agreed to spend $1.5 million in Measure A funds to replace water storage tanks at Pacific Union College. The college is replacing four 400,000-gallon tanks built in 1962 with tanks that will be the same size, a county report said.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He was worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield. He is a graduate of UC Sa