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State probably wont pay $60K it owes Manteca
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Manteca is owed over $60,000 by the State of California that it doesn’t expect to ever recieve.

The money, which represents state reimbursement for the posting of public meeting notices, represents complying with state law in 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2008-09 for $48,952 and the latest billing of $11,540 for 2009-10

During the same time period the state took in excess of $8 million in local funds from Manteca in a bid to balance state budgets after Sacramento failed to get expenses in line with revenue.

State leaders have indicated they plan to drop the compensation program altogether. That doesn’t create a dilemma at all for City Clerk Joann Tilton who has been on the job for 30 years.

“We post the meetings any way,” Tilton said, noting the reimbursement wasn’t put in place until years after the Brown Act open meeting law was implemented in 1953.

Tilton noted the city opted to request reimbursement when it became available due to a fiduciary responsibility they have to local taxpayers to keep costs down whenever possible. But because the payments have been running so late, the money isn’t really relied on to balance the general fund budget.

Manteca, as an example, received the most recent payment from the state last December of $5,803 for 2002.

Manteca meets the criteria for posting meetings by placing notices of upcoming City Council, Planning Commission, Parks & Recreation Commission, and other standing bodies such as the Building Appeals Board and the Manteca Finance Authority in a glass encased bulletin board outside the council chambers.

State law allows local government including school boards to bill either at a flat rate per meeting notice or by actual costs. Manteca opted for the flat rate to eliminate incurring costs trying to track exact time spent. The state set the rate at $154.82 last year per meeting noticed. That compares to $135.66 per meeting noticed in 2005-06.

“If they drop the funding we’re still going to post the meetings as required by law,” Tilton said.

A review of audits performed by the state controller’s office shows that some cities and counties grossly over-billed the state for their costs to notice and hold open meetings. The costs were for such activities as photocopying agendas, posting them online and e-mailing members of the public.

Some entities billed the state as much as $75 an hour to compile the agendas. The controller’s office decided that several of the claims far exceeded what it deemed reasonable.

Among the largest was a claim from Contra Costa County, which billed the state more than $1.1 million to follow the open meetings law from July 2002 to June 2004. The office of state Controller John Chiang rejected all but $225,000, saying the county claimed “unsupported costs.” The county later got an additional $80,000.

Then-Controller Steve Westly also rejected $1.8 million of the county’s $1.9 million bill covering the period from July 1999 to June 2001, according to an audit reviewed by the AP. His office also cited “unsupported costs.”

Westly also rejected $4.6 million of a $4.8 million bill from Santa Clara County for the period from July 1998 to June 2001, according to an audit. His office found that the county claimed costs not covered under the mandate and overstated its costs.

Questions over whether provisions of California’s open meetings law might be suspended arose after Gov. Jerry Brown proposed halting state compensation for a variety of local government mandates. That would save the state $176.2 million in the coming fiscal year as it addresses a $26.6 billion budget deficit.

Local governments bill the state about $17 million a year and school districts another $6 million for complying with the open meetings act. The state has not paid many of the claims to local governments for several years because of its ongoing fiscal crisis.

The potential suspension of payment for the mandates has left the meetings law in legal limbo and raised the prospect that some local government bodies will stop complying altogether. That prompted two legislative committees to defy Brown’s recommendation and approve compensation, with some lawmakers saying they feared local governments might otherwise stop giving public notice of their meetings.

The state Legislature passed the Ralph M. Brown Act in 1953, declaring that all government meetings should be open to the public. Voters strengthened their rights in 2004, when they overwhelmingly approved Proposition 59. The initiative amended the California Constitution to give the public access to information about the people’s business, requiring that meetings of public bodies and records of public officials and agencies be open.

Associated Press contributed to this story.