I’m sure you share the pride I feel to live and work in Kern County. Our home is a special place! As we all begin the New Year, 2019, I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Here are some of the highlights that the Kern County Board of Supervisors will tackle in the coming year:
We are in the third year of our four-year plan to eliminate the county’s General Fund structural budget deficit, originally pegged at $44.5 million, due to a drop in oil prices and steep increases in county employee pension costs. The Board of Supervisors has addressed nearly 60 percent of the deficit in the General Fund. The current deficit sits at $17 million, and we anticipate the structural deficit will be eliminated by the end of the next fiscal year. This effort has been difficult, and I am proud of the tough fiscal resolve of the Board and the County Administrative Office staff, and, most importantly, the efforts of all of our employees who continue to provide outstanding service to the public despite budget cuts.
The Fire Department’s structural deficit of $7.5 million presents the greatest budgetary challenge for the Board and CAO, and it is projected to grow because of increasing personnel costs, mainly pensions. Ongoing discussions with the Kern County Firefighter’s Union will continue to focus on ways they can help achieve annual cost savings, primarily eliminating the overpayment of overtime.
The Kern County Sheriff’s Office is another crucial branch of Kern County government, and the efficacy of it remains a priority for the Board of Supervisors. The Board has been working with Sheriff Donny Youngblood, and his employee union, to address very real retention and recruitment challenges within the department. The challenge continues to be pay parity with agencies such as the Bakersfield Police Department, in addition to the Sheriff’s ability to fill vacant positions around the county.
Economic development will remain a focus of the Board because of the growth it brings to our local economy, and to county revenues. The recently adopted Advance Kern Initiative is off and running and we have already begun to see results. Advance Kern attracted L’Oreal USA, and the creation of 250 new jobs at the Tejon Commerce Center, and was used in an agreement with Amazon, which will bring 1,500 new jobs to our county. The Board has put a premium on the creation of good jobs that pay better than a living wage, are long-term, and ones that continue to multiply. Advance Kern rewards companies looking to set up shop in Kern County, who meet job creation and hiring milestones within Kern County.
Kern County is a land of many different types of terrain and beauty, and our parks are some of the most popular destinations for recreation and relaxation. The Board of Supervisors knows our parks need more attention, and that is why improving the care, management, development, and safety of our county parks is a critical objective. The Board is taking a zero-based budget approach to our parks, meaning the expenses of Parks & Recreation will be subtracted from the department’s budget allocation so that it balances out at zero, and every dollar spent will have a declared function, prioritizing infrastructure improvements and public safety.
The Board of Supervisors and Kern County Animal Services embarked on an endeavor to become a “No Kill” county at our animal shelter by 2020, and we are dedicated to making additional progress in 2019. This is the humane and responsible way to handle our pet overpopulation problem, and one that we have had success with due to the dedication of the public, local humane societies and organizations, free and reduced charge spay and neuter clinics, and, of course, our County Animal Services staff. We made great progress last year — just shy of 1,500 fewer animals were euthanized from November 2017 to November 2018 in county shelters. KCAS is finding live outcomes (adoptions or other humane transfers of animals) for just over 75 percent of all animals coming in to county shelters. This is a remarkable turn-around in animal lives saved — in 2010 for instance, the county had to unfortunately euthanize 75 percent of all animals received at our shelters.
The best part about the county of Kern’s drive to become more efficient and transparent is that residents will continue to see the improvements in their county government from the Advance Kern Initiative and our implementation of Lean Six Sigma. Lean Six Sigma is a proven method used by companies such as Toyota and General Electric, which relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance and reduce waste and variation/redundancies. Through the use of this method, we have trained more than 700 county employees and will train hundreds more this year, and every new hire will be trained in Lean Six Sigma. Our efforts through this method have saved the county taxpayer more than $7 million to date, and the Board anticipates that number to grow to more than $10 million this next fiscal year.
The year ahead is full of challenges and opportunities for your county government, and Kern’s economy. The Board of Supervisors are committed to meeting these challenges and opportunities, and we look forward to representing and serving all of you in 2019.
Zack Scrivner is Kern County's second district supervisor.