2014 State of the County Address

BELOW IS THE TEXT OF THE 2014 STATE OF THE COUNTY ADDRESS, DELIVERED BY CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD PHIL COX ON JANUARY 28, 2014.

In preparing for this speech during the last two months I found myself looking for the news. I read and reread the message I delivered five years ago and cannot find anything from that speech that compares to this time. There is good news and bad to share for the upcoming year, but mostly good. First I want to thank my family for their continuing support they give to me and especially my wife Connie. In just a few months it will be five years since she discovered she had cancer. Our family surrounded us with support and love to help her through the treatment. The community offered its support also. We will always remember those who showed their support through kind notes and prayers. Here we are today at the five year mark and cancer free.

It is a pleasure working with four Supervisors who have the best interest of this county in mind. Each of them is sincere in their commitment to their districts and their conviction to serve the citizens of this county.

I asked our CAO to provide me with a spread sheet showing the change in leadership that has taken place over the past few years. Since 2004 all department heads with the exception of two have changed. We created two new departments just last year alone. Our fire and IT departments are also still relatively young.

I asked each department head to provide a list of accomplishments from last year and also to give me a goal for 2014. I would like to highlight a few of the responses I received. In 2013 the Sherriff’s Department worked what seemed like non-stop hand in hand with our code enforcement and County Counsel to hammer illegal marijuana grows. Our hat goes off to them on their tireless effort. Their goal for this year is not hard to figure out. They have applied for and received grant funding to build a new jail in Porterville and a jail with re-entry training classrooms at Sequoia Field. This represents $110,000,000 in construction projects that will add almost five hundred beds of capacity and allow our Sheriff to improve operations in the south county.

Our Fire Department replaced its entire inventory of breathing apparatus improving the safety of our fire fighters. They continue to work with the Sheriff to collocate dispatch services. This will allow the county to realize cost savings with both dispatch centers in one location.

Our Resource Management Agency processed $79,000,000 in solar projects last year. They completed several major road projects and this year are working on several bridge projects. We may not see those bridge projects under construction this year, but much of the preliminary work will be completed. There are several key employees who worked on the road projects, too many to list.

The Health and Human Service Agency partnered with our local hospitals and health care providers last year to implement the Low Income Health Program, (LIHP). Thousands of Tulare County citizens have benefited because of their hard work. They moved into a newly remodeled building on Tulare Ave. here in Visalia serving our mental health and drug and alcohol programs. This board cares about our employees and the conditions they work in. As we approach this year this same team is working around the clock to enroll all eligible residents into the Affordable Care Act program.

County Counsel hosted another successful training session for the many special districts throughout Tulare County. We have now had Government 101 through 105. This year is all about succession planning.

The Human Resource Department sponsored a very successful Employment Empowerment Symposium last year providing valuable training for hundreds of county employees and is now working on the Wellness Program. Healthy employees are happy employees.

Our Probation Department has a new leader and was handed a huge responsibility with the passing of AB109. Chief Meyer has lead our local team of law enforcement through a very tough two years managing new funding and a lot of pressure to provide new programming. Over the horizon though is her vision and others for much needed vocational training for our youth in her facility. The plans for a new training building are in the works right now. She cares about those she has been entrusted with. Even though some are there for only a short time and some are very young, she has a vision and plans for them and their future.

I would like to take a few moments and talk about our Board Representatives. Julietta Martinez has been working on the board’s good works fund since she started with us and does a wonderful job. Having a bilingual person on board has helped on many occasions and she has a wonderful personality that comes across the phone. She prepares the majority of the proclamations and certificates we present and she is always doing her best to make sure they are complete and accurate.

Allison Pierce has taken the Tulare County Gang Prevention Task Force to new levels. When I requested information from the departments for this presentation I received one or two pages of information. Allison handed over twenty pages. Not only is she surpassing our expectations with the many Step Up programs she oversees, she has the attitude to go along with it. She brings an excellent attitude and a wonderful spirit with her each day to work that is contagious.

The Step Up program includes several services we provide for the youth in Tulare County. Last year the LOOP bus provided rides for over 17,500 youth to after school programs. This represents an increase of over 50%from the previous year. The Summer Night Lights program more than doubled with over 12,000 attending events. We have now reached over 100,000 Tulare County citizens with Step Up programming since we began in 2007. Looking forward to this year and beyond there are a few new areas that have requested programming in their communities such as Strathmore. CSET is now working with 30 Visalia Unified students on the #LEAD program. This is a program training high school aged students to be mentors and leaders in their schools. The city of Porterville is leading the way with their commitment to the young people by taking the Step Up message to their neighborhoods. We will work with our partners in the Health and Human Services Department to direct funding in a more focused way to troubled teens and families.

The people who work in this office are all wonderful to work with. I am constantly amazed at the amount of work that gets done each day. Our CAO Jean Rousseau has been a great addition to the county family. He has listened to and followed the direction of this board and is leading the charge as we rebuild our way out of the recession. His knowledge of government financing and his conservative nature have been a tremendous help to the citizens of Tulare County. He has assisted in the oversight of the retirement fund which has seen great growth during the past few years.

This is just a small sampling of the many success stories shared by our department heads. There is much more to tell.

Now following is a list of what I would hope to continue and build on past successes this board has participated in the previous year.

With the support of this board we will continue to hold night time meetings in each district again this year. It proved to be very successful allowing those who work during the day to have access to their supervisors in their local communities. We will also continue to meet with the Indian Tribal Council this year. During our meeting with them last year we were able to open up communication lines that for years did not exist.

At the end of last year this board held a retreat in Three Rivers. We were able to work on relationships that had deteriorated over the last few years and worked together to realize a common vision and discuss goals for the future. This year we will include the department heads in a retreat setting to improve our relationship with them and work on visioning and goals for the future. Staff has been directed to schedule a time and place for this important meeting that will kick start us off into the New Year.

Part of that discussion will include the needs of each department. We will reacquire two county buildings in the middle of next year when the Office of Education moves into their new facility. I am sure there are already plans being made for those offices and buildings by each and every department head. This is a great opportunity for us as a board to connect with each department and consider their needs for future office space and will want to make sure it will serve the needs of this county well for many years.

We all know that we are experiencing the worst water conditions in recorded history. Our citrus industry has suffered a one two blow with the freeze and now a pest that is spreading county wide. We have great concerns for our farming, cattle and all of the agriculture industry that is the backbone of Tulare County. I talked with Neil Pilegard who oversees the upkeep of our parks and grounds belonging to Tulare County. Neil is already working on water saving measures. This county will lead the way when it comes to water conservation. Starting immediately lawns and planters will receive minimal watering and trees will also be maintained so that we will not lose them. We ask the public to bear with us as we let the lawns go brown and reduce the plantings in our flower beds. Neil assures me that most of our grass is common Bermuda and will come back next year when we turn the water on again. We will do our part to free up as much water for our farmers as possible and ask others to do the same.

We as a board have recognized that there is a great need to invest more in our employees and provide training that will help them become the leaders we know they can be. While I was a contractor with a sheet metal shop, I never would have considered putting an untrained person on a machine that cut and bent steel. This would have been dangerous and had a straight line to the emergency room. We are committed to work with our HR department and provide resources to give our employees the best training we can.

There have been times in our country’s history when we have stood shoulder to shoulder to fight with and for each other when we were attacked from the outside. When the Nazi’s threatened the world our fathers and grandfathers went to war, side by side regardless of color, status or religion. Our mothers and grandmothers stayed home and took up the slack. Together with other countries we stood together and fought and won. The State of California is under attack. This enemy knows no color, status or religion. Our common enemy is the drought. This Sunday the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is asking the members of the church state wide, of which I am one, to fast and pray for rain. So I extend to challenge to all within the sound of my voice to join with us and show our faith and ask God to send rain. We have the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder again regardless of color, status or religion with a common goal to petition God to help our land.

I hope the “take away” from this meeting today is that the County of Tulare is in good financial shape. We have a healthy retirement fund. We care about our employees and their working conditions. We are a people of faith. We have good solid plans for the future and are dedicated to the citizens of this great county.