2019 year in review
From our Supervisor
January 4, 2020
I am grateful for the honor and privilege of serving Kern County's Second District on the Board of Supervisors. Together, we have accomplished much, and this article focuses on some of the highlights for Kern County and the Second District.
Kern County Budget Update...
For the Kern County Board of Supervisors, 2019 was a year that presented numerous challenges, but was also marked by much success.
On Aug. 27, the Board of Supervisors adopted our final 2019-2020 Fiscal Year Budget, which successfully closed the General Fund deficit of $44.5 million that was identified four years ago, caused by a significant drop in oil prices and steep increases in employee pension costs (70 percent) over the last ten years. It took a lot of hard work from county employees and department heads to get there, but our four-year mitigation plan to close the deficit paid off, and the Board officially declared that the county's fiscal crisis is over!
Departments took an average reduction of 12.5 percent over the four years. I say average because not all reductions were equal. The Board never cut the Fire Department's budget during the four-year fiscal crisis, and other public safety departments, such as Sheriff and District Attorney, were spared cuts the last two budget years to ensure public safety was prioritized.
In addition to making strategic cuts to our budget, county department heads and their teams of employees found innovative ways to streamline county government, improve service levels, and ultimately save money, as part of our Launch Kern/Lean Six Sigma initiatives.
An Improving Economy
An improving economy also helped us close the budget gap. Property values in residential, commercial and agricultural sectors are on the rise. Also, Kern County continues to gain recognition by large companies as a great place to do business. We've had great additions to the county in the last two years. Amazon and Hadco both broke ground near Meadows Field Airport. L'Oréal and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino decided to make significant investments at the southern end of the county, and Dollar General is increasing their operations and adding staff.
All of this is good for the economy and the employment outlook for our residents. In the last three years, we've added nearly 5,000 jobs to the county through new and growing businesses. We have great partners in our economic diversity efforts and we're committed to continue to grow the number and types of industries doing business here in Kern County.
With an improved economy and a stronger fiscal outlook, the Board took a major step to address our employee recruitment and retention challenges. The Board finalized an agreement with our Kern County Sheriff's deputies and command staff that made them the highest paid local law enforcement agency in Kern County, and among the highest in the Central Valley. We recognize that recruitment and retention in law enforcement is increasingly difficult and we're doing what we can to address it. Overall, the Board's efforts in 2019 resulted in an additional $11.1 million investment in the Sheriff's Department for pay raises, signing bonuses for new deputies, funding a recruitment academy for the fourth year in a row, and purchasing new patrol vehicles.
Homelessness In Kern County
To help address the severe increase in homelessness, that is not unique to Kern County, but instead has spiked over the last two years in California much more than anywhere in the nation, the Board designated $2 million in this fiscal year's budget for mitigation measures to tackle the problem. At the end of the year, we used a portion of that money to build a low-barrier shelter on county land on Golden State Avenue in Bakersfield. The courts have ruled that local government cannot move homeless individuals and their belongings off of public property unless there are beds available for them, so building the shelter was a necessity. The shelter will provide "wrap around" services such as food, hygiene and laundry, mental health and drug counseling, and employment assistance. The county's shelter will open by early February.
Indeed, significant challenges remain at the county. State laws that reduced criminal penalties over the past few years have made it harder for our law enforcement to keep our communities safe. The costs of pension benefits for county employees are increasing faster than our current revenue streams (nearly $200 million over the last 10 years). The liberal majority in the State Legislature continues to push legislation and policies that imperil one of Kern County's largest and most economically significant industries - oil and gas production. Governor Newsom's latest attack at the end of last year on Kern's oil industry prompted me to say "Enough is enough!" On Dec. 10, I made a referral to staff, supported by a 5-0 vote of the Board, to take a stand against the governor's attack. Starting in January, the Board of Supervisors will bring oil industry representatives into the Board Chambers to give testimony on the devastating impacts the state's actions are having on our largest industry. We will also organize a coalition of community stakeholders to make our voices heard in Sacramento, and lastly the Board will consider declaring an "Economic Crisis" in Kern County because of the governor's attack on our industry.
In light of the challenges ahead, the Board and county departments are working hard to improve efficiency in county government and to attract private sector investment that will further diversify our economy. I'm proud of the progress we make in these areas every day!
It's an honor to represent you on the Board of Supervisors.