Before I begin I would like to thank my fellow Tulare County Board members, elected officials, our CAO, Jason Britt, and his staff, department heads and employees for their hard work, dedication, and leadership this past year.
Working together, we have achieved a lot in 2019.
Probably the biggest and most notable was the opening of our new South County Detention Facility in Porterville.
We also unveiled our new solar energy projects on numerous county buildings. We are transforming into a clean energy future with the implementation of large-scale solar designed to generate approximately $40 million in savings over the next 25 years and reduce our electricity spending by 70%.
Continuing along the theme of clean renewable energy, last year we saw private industry throughout the County develop clean energy projects. Notably was the completion of the Calgren Dairy Fuels pipeline cluster project with the Southern California Gas Co. This Renewable Natural Gas Facility in Pixley is expected to be the largest dairy biogas operation in the Country! The first of its kind in the State, this facility alone will eventually capture methane produced from 75,000 cows and prevent 130,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere each year – equivalent to taking more than 25,000 passenger cars off the road.
And finally, last year it was the desire of this Board to increase our efforts in the area of Code Compliance and Enforcement activities throughout the County. In doing so, we increased staffing to our Code Compliance division within the Resource Management Agency. The additional staffing allowed for increased efficiencies within existing operations and increased pro-active activities including abatement of over 100 outstanding cases in the County.
In 2019, Tulare County remained fiscally sound while passing a $1.38 Billion-dollar budget, the largest to date, that remains balanced for all applicable funds, as required by law. This accomplishment is due to the fiscal responsibility of this Board, exceptional efforts of our County Management Team, use of conservative revenue estimates, and steady economic growth.
This Board also adopted financial policies to ensure continuous funding of a healthy strategic reserve in anticipation of uncertainties in the future. I would like to see us be mindful of these financial policies and continue to prepare for any unforeseen challenges that inevitably will come our way.
In the coming year, this Board will remain dedicated to fiscal responsibility and living within our means, regardless of Federal and State budget impacts.
State of the County
As Chair for 2020, I plan to continue to move us down the path towards a sustainable future, while providing a strong quality of life for the people of Tulare County. Like every County, we have our challenges, but I believe if we are proactive in addressing those challenges, we can withstand any obstacles that come our way.
Today, I would like to cover some key issues facing our County that will ultimately challenge our ability to be sustainable. I will share some strategies and highlight how we are continuing our efforts to decrease unnecessary costs while improving efficiencies; all the while providing effective services to our residents. I will share with you some of our ongoing efforts in addressing homelessness and what is to come to help provide housing solutions for the homeless population. In addition, I will touch on some work of our various County Departments and what you can expect to see in 2020.
Improving Operations, Decreasing Costs and Expanding Services
In maintaining the Board’s focus on fiscal prudence, I commend County staff for their efforts in continually analyzing our operations and how we deliver services to our Constituents. This culture of self-evaluation leads to opportunities. For example, the Tulare County Library was the first in the San Joaquin Valley to eliminate late fees. This action removes barriers in how we provide better library services, especially to our most vulnerable populations, while allowing our library staff to use their time more efficiently and not be constrained to recovering minuscule fines. Tulare County Library said goodbye to late fees last summer. I look forward to seeing the effects of the implementation in 2020.
Last year, we took another step towards improving efficiencies of our operations and the effectiveness of staff time by passing the ordinance to eliminate thousands of low-value property tax bills. By authorizing the County Assessor to cancel regular tax bills of $100 or less and eliminating supplemental/escape bills of $50 or less; we will be eliminating approximately 15,000 assessments for 2020. The County is making the concerted effort to provide tax relief to our residents while increasing our fiscal diligence by not spending more dollars collecting a tax that is beyond its actual worth. This modest decrease in income to the County will effectively be offset by the savings of $740,000 annually in staff time and resources. I too look forward to seeing how this action will pay off for us in 2020.
Tulare County overall is growing. In turn, we are growing as an organization in order to meet the ever-increasing demand for services in our growing population. In order to staff the increasingly operational South County Justice Center, this year we will be moving a portion of staff from the District Attorney and Public Defender’s offices into the Cornerstone Building set to be completed in Porterville. This move will allow us to offer a full-service operation of legal services to our south county community and is a testament of our commitment to expanding our services to those areas of the County in need.
Improving upon the safety of the public in Tulare County is a top priority of this Board and we will be making enhancements to our public safety operations this year with the consolidation of our emergency dispatch centers. Currently our Sheriff’s dispatch and fire dispatch are housed in separate locations, and we will be
bringing those together under one roof to better our communications and to improve the efficiency of public safety throughout the County. This relocation combined with recently approved technological advancements will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our daily dispatch work.
In keeping with our efforts to continually improve county operations, the Auditor-Controller/Treasurer-Tax Collector's Office will be pursuing upgrades to our county-wide banking services in an effort to improve banking operations all while decreasing daily costs. Additionally, we will be working towards replacing the financial and payroll software to increase security of data, provide timely and accurate data for decision making and improve overall efficiency.
It’s no secret, there is a homeless crisis in California and here in Tulare County, we too, are experiencing a crisis. I appreciate the work of our county-wide Task Force on Homelessness and their efforts in analyzing our systems, developing solutions and most importantly bringing all stakeholders, including our cities, to the table in order to coordinate our existing services and identify innovative solutions.
I want to highlight what we the County of Tulare has done and are currently doing to address homelessness. On a daily basis, our County staff is working to connect our current homeless populations to existing services, providing rental assistance to families in hardship to prevent them from becoming homeless, and continually working towards establishing permanent housing solutions.
We have boots on the ground and staff throughout the County working to connect our homeless populations with the existing housing, healthcare, mental health programs and services available to them. The newly formed Homeless Outreach Team within our Health and Human Services Agency is serving as the primary means to doing this. We have also coordinated services with the St. Paul’s Low Barrier Warming Center in Visalia, providing outreach and services over the course of operation of the warming center including public health nursing services, public guardianship programs, and mental health crisis workers. We have provided and assigned county social workers on ridealongs and assisted the Visalia HOPE Team in making 155 contacts that ultimately lead to 18 individuals being housed and off the streets. In addition, we continue to make staff available and by offering our services at various homeless outreach community events including the Kings/Tulare Homeless Alliance’s pop-up Navigation Center and Project Homeless Connects.
Through the CalWORKS Housing Support Program and Homeless Assistance Program, we have provided $379,000 of housing and rental assistance to 942 families in the County. Through the Housing and Disability Advocacy Program, we have place 13 disabled individuals experiencing homelessness into housing. In terms of youth, we have provided housing and rental assistance to 123 former foster youth with funds allocated from AB 12. These are just a few examples of how the County is continually working to establish methods to provide available funds to those in need to prevent them from becoming homeless.
Permanent housing efforts are underway and we continue to develop more programs in the area of supportive housing by securing No Place Like Home allocation funds. Through this funding stream and collaboration with our community partners, we have seen these housing projects remove nine individuals off of the streets in Dinuba, and 14 individuals experiencing homelessness off the streets in Porterville. In addition, the County recently opened housing facilities in both Porterville and Tulare geared to provide over 150 beds and supportive
housing for mental health consumers and/or members of our Homeless population. We look forward to both those operations becoming fully implemented this year.
Good things are happening in Tulare County, but we are well aware there is more to do. I urge our staff to continue their efforts in collaborating with our community non-profits, faith-based organizations and our cities to continue effective partnerships and remain vigilant in searching for solutions to address the current homeless crisis.
I look forward to the work underway at our Health and Human Services Agency and their implementation of the Whole Person Care pilot program in 2020. This program will redefine how we provide services to our residents by focusing on a more holistic and collaborative approach to mental health wellness and homelessness. The roll-out of this pilot in the coming year will include the establishment of numerous multi-disciplinary teams at various locations through the County including targeted locations within our major cities – Visalia, Porterville and Tulare. This effort will engage county departments and community partners in providing services to those who frequent emergency rooms and individuals within our criminal justice system.
The effort to combat homelessness is ongoing and I look forward to seeing what results develop in 2020.
Building Infrastructure - Projects for 2020
Finally, I want to share with all of you some of the projects and programs we expect to complete this year. With more than 5,000 employees working under 22 departments, we have hundreds of programs, services and projects happening throughout the year. I will not be able to cover all; however, I do want to highlight a few.
We are making expansions to our Central Road Yard located at the corner of Ave 256 and Road 140 as part of our master plan. Portions of this will come to fruition with the new Transit Operations and Maintenance Facility being completed and coming online this year. This $12 million facility will also include CNG Natural Gas fueling stations and house our fleet of TCaT buses, transit dispatch, maintenance and administration offices. In addition, construction of Fire Station One will also be completed in 2020 and located next to the new transit facility. This $4.3 million project has been in the works since we established our own county fire department in 2006. The new fire station will provide a centralized location for improved response times to this area of the County, specifically to rural areas, and will also be integral to enhancing public safety with the expanded training facilities at this location.
The timing of construction for these two additions was strategic as we were able maximize the economies of scale and save on costs in establishing utility lines and infrastructure development for these new buildings. I commend staff and the departments for their forethought and patience in this effort.
Beyond our own county facilities, the County is actively involved in building and restoring infrastructure in the rural areas of the county and within our unincorporated communities. We are actively building tomorrow’s infrastructure today by investing in roads, building bridges, making safety improvements and establishing new community water systems.
It’s no secret, we maintain a lot of roads in Tulare County – over 3,000 miles to be exact. This year we will be investing over $24 million in infrastructure projects on our roads. Through the Road Repair and Accountability
Act also known as SB 1, we plan on providing $11.9 million in road rehabilitation to over 30 miles of roads throughout the County. In addition, we are continuing our Farm 2 Market project and investing $11 million into rehabilitation of 21.5 miles of roads essential to delivering goods from our local farms to market outlets. Within our small rural communities, we will be implementing the 2020 Intersection Improvement Project which will provide pavement improvements to intersections in numerous communities throughout the County including Traver, Ivanhoe, Tipton, Tulare, Dinuba, Exeter and Earlimart. We anticipate these projects breaking ground for construction in the Fall of 2020 investing a total of $1.2 Million of enhancements to infrastructure.
Through our ongoing bridge improvement program, we are continuing to build bridges in Tulare County. We are responsible for and maintain 355 bridges throughout the County. This year we will be implementing the South Fork Kaweah River Bridge Project constructing a $2.7 million replacement bridge. Construction for the South Fork Bridge is scheduled to begin this year with anticipation of completion in 2021. In addition, we will be replacing the Ave 364 bridge over Cottonwood Creek. The $2.8 million Cottonwood Creek Bridge Project will also be starting construction this year with a scheduled completion by winter 2021.
Building infrastructure includes building safe communities and that includes sidewalks, curbs, cross walks, roadway signs and more. This is of the upmost importance to Tulare County and it is crucial that when we plan for infrastructure improvements, we also keep safety improvements in mind. In 2020 we will be implementing Community Accessibility Enhancement Projects in the communities of Cutler, Pixley, Ivanhoe and Terra Bella. The County is investing nearly $1 million in small scale safety improvements that will have huge impacts in our smaller communities. Along these lines, we will be investing $1.5 million in the community of Earlimart with sidewalk improvements along State Street and Washington Ave in an effort to keep up with the growth occurring that community. In addition, we will be making improvements along the Ave 232 corridor west of Tulare investing $1.7 million to improve safety features for travelers along the Tulare-Lindsay Highway.
Lastly in the area of infrastructure, we will see our continued efforts on the Yettem-Seville Water System Improvement Project with the completion of the Yettem community water delivery system this year. After decades of enduring water quality and supply issues, the community of Yettem will now have a newly constructed and improved delivery system of safe clean drinking water. Phase one of this two phase water project is complete, which included drilling a new well and replacing the aged distribution system. Now we move forward onto phase two of the project and begin work on constructing a pipeline between the Yettem and Seville water systems to better provide economies of scale for both these communities as they begin oversight, operations and maintenance of their own water system. Another example of how the County is making strides to improving infrastructure within our unincorporated communities.
This Board is dedicated to laying the groundwork for a viable future for Tulare County. We plan to look ahead and not only address the challenges approaching us tomorrow, but also prepare for the obstacles we expect will come our way in the years to come. We will continue down the path the Board has historically traveled upon and we will strive to lay the foundation for our sustainable future.
Thank you for your attendance at today’s 2020 State of the County Address.
Literary Landmark event honoring Tulare Poet Laureate, the late Wilma McDaniel.
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County health officials are prepared for the Coronavirus
Board Chair Pete Vander Poel orders flag be lowered.