2014, year in review
2014 saw no shortage of challenges facing the County. Below are some updates on many important issues that came before the Board of Supervisors in 2014:
The new management team hired by the Board of Supervisors to turn around Kern Medical Center has steadily brought the hospital back toward profitability while staying true to KMC’s core mission of providing quality health care to all who need it. KMC’s in come in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2014-15 came in $3.5 million above the budget, putting the hospital in the black by $2.5 million during July, August, and September.
KMC will have greater flexibility to manage its workforce and its costs next year under Assembly Bill 2546, County of Kern-backed legislation that allows the Board of Supervisors to create a separate hospital authority to operate Kern Medical Center. The new authority will free the hospital from many of the bureaucratic mandates that have kept it from operating at peak efficiency.
The Board of Supervisors recently approved a contract with Balfour Beatty Construction LLC to build a badly needed $100.5 million County jail that will open in 2017. At full capacity, the new jail will house 736 medium-security inmates, 64 maximum security inmates and will include 22 more special-use beds.
Nearly 80% of the cost will be paid by a state grant. The contract requires the construction company to design and build the project at a specified amount, so the County will not have to pay for any cost over-runs.
The new Kern County Animal Services shelter has been up and running for a little over a year, and the staff at the Fruitvale Avenue facility in Bakersfield report encouraging progress in spay and neutering, adoptions, and rescues. Mobile spay and neuter clinics in several outlying areas of Kern County including Boron, California City, Mojave, Rosamond and Tehachapi have had great success. These humane alternatives helped the shelter to greatly reduce animal euthanasia starting in September of 2013, and the department has kept its animal “save rate” high throughout 2014. Great job, Animal Services!
A Halloween storm and another smaller system after Thanksgiving helped to settle the dust in the Valley and built the beginnings of a snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, but we remain in the grip of an extreme drought that has endured throughout 2014. The State Legislature has enacted new requirements for sustainable groundwater, so the county will continue to work with its partners in water and irrigation districts on a plan to restore groundwater to safer levels over the long term. While we must conserve the water that does come our way, the current drought would be greatly eased by fewer environmental restrictions on California’s rivers. In the meantime, we will all hope for a wet winter and spring.
We don’t have enough water, but we appear to have plenty of oil. The stubborn global economic slowdown combined with increased U.S. oil production caused oil prices to fall from over $100 a barrel to less than $70 in the last six months, and oil investors are going to be more selective about where they allocate their money.
Although Kern County produces more oil than any county in the nation, we’re still located in California, so we need to overcome our state’s stricter environmental hurdles to compete with other emerging hot spots for U.S. oil production. The Board of Supervisors has commissioned a comprehensive environmental impact report that should make it much easier for oil companies to comply with California laws, while continuing to produce oil and gas from Kern County’s still abundant reserves. The Board expects it to be ready in a few months.
The Renewable Energy Neighborhood Enhancement Wind Business Improvement Zone program proved a great success in 2014, with the Boron and Old Towne Tehachapi visioning projects completed, joining Rosamond and Mojave, and over 40 grants for Eastern Kern businesses allocated to assist local entrepreneurs to make the exterior of their buildings more attractive to customers. Over 70 businesses have submitted grants for 2015.
In addition, the $1.3 million improvement project for Diamond Street in Downtown Rosamond was approved by the Board of Supervisors at our December 9th. meeting. Construction should start in May of 2015, and we continue to move forward with improvements to K Street in Mojave.