San Joaquin County has a full-time lobbyist for which it pays $85,000, and the county also approved funding $11,617 for sending another delegation of officials back to Washington D.C. for the annual One Voice lobbying trip.
Yet despite all these efforts to lobby politicians back in the nation's capitol, the Board of Supervisors went a step further on Tuesday by hiring a second lobbyist.
The county will pay The Ferguson Group, based in Washington, D.C., up to $50,000 to seek federal funds to improve Delta levees for flood-control purposes and to build a dam to divert Mokelumne River water to replenish the groundwater basin.
"These are both really urgent things," county Public Works Director Tom Flinn said. "We're learning that we need better contacts, particularly with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation."
And county officials are betting $50,000 that The Ferguson Group has those superior contacts.
Large federal agencies run on their own, independent of Congress and the White House, Flinn said.
"The Ferguson Co. knows the rules and regulations on how to get these (projects) through the system," Flinn said.
One of the firm's first duties is to set up meetings with the Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation when county officials head to the nation's capital for its One Voice lobbying trip from April 6-10.
Former Rep. Richard Pombo was able to get authorization for $3.3 million toward the water project a few years ago, Flinn said, but Congress never took the second necessary step of actually releasing the money.
"We need someone to work through the gears of the federal government," Flinn said. "How do you advance this project? You need some people in Washington who know the innards."
The MORE water project calls for a new dam to store Mokelumne River water at Duck Creek, south of Clements near the Calaveras County line. Water would be diverted from either Camanche or Pardee Reservoir.
The flood-control project is to improve levees in the west part of the county from just south of Highway 12 in Lodi to south of Highway 120 in Manteca. The idea is to protect Stockton, Lathrop, Manteca and the area surrounding the county jail and San Joaquin General Hospital.
The county is determining how much the levee repairs will cost, Flinn said. Continued from Page 1
Bob Stern, director of the Center for Governmental Studies, questioned why a lobbyist is necessary.
"Why would a local government agency hire a private lobbyist to lobby another government agency?" Stern asked. "Why can't they go through their congressman for free? It's really sad."
Deputy County Administrator Elena Reyes points to the county's main lobbying firm, Fleischman-Hilliard Government Relations, which helped the county get $500,000 for the new county agriculture center that is under construction in Stockton. That's a lot more than the approximately $85,000 the county pays Fleischman-Hilliard annually, Reyes said.
The county needed to hire a specialist to negotiate for money for the Mokelumne River and flood-control projects, Reyes said, because the firm was spread thin lobbying for other county projects such as the county jail expansion, community development, health care, economic development, libraries and emergency services.
Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said that lobbyists have been effective in acquiring federal funds for local cities, counties and other agencies, but taxpayers should watch carefully to make sure the county is getting its money's worth.
"All counties have congressional representatives who should be able to function in that capacity at no additional cost," Vosburgh said.
Not only do congressional offices have large staffs to help local agencies in their district, he said, but they can call on the congressional liaison within each federal agency.
"I can't be overly critical, but taxpayers should be cautious," Vosburgh said.