Kern County Second District Supervisor Zack Scrivner looked forward to 2020 while he reflected on the past, reviewing challenges for Kern County’s budget for public safety, homelessness and other topics at the Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council meeting Jan. 8.
Four years ago the Kern County Board of Supervisors declared a fiscal emergency. The general fund deficit of $44.5 million is now at an end when on Aug. 27, the board adopted the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget.
The deficit was mainly caused by the drop in oil prices and increased employee pension costs over the last 10 years.
“We estimate that we lost about $50 million because of the drop in oil prices ... and that is just in our general fund,” Scrivner said.
The Kern County Sheriff, Kern County District Attorney and the Kern County Fire Department were spared funding cuts during the fiscal crisis.
Funding for the Kern County Fire Department is challenging at times. Many in the fire department are retiring by age 50.
“The cost for county pensions over the course of the last 10 years, has gone up 70 percent. We just got a $15 million increase from ... last year to this year as well,” the supervisor said.
Kern County is attracting large-scale businesses.
“We had some great additions to our economy,” Scrivner said. He added that companies such as Amazon, Hadco, Dollar General and L’Oreal, along with the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino that is in the works, are helping the economy grow.
Some 5,000 jobs in the county are now added through these new and growing businesses.
Scrivner said the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino may raise about $220 million over the next 20 years to help pay costs for the sheriff’s office, fire department and other county departments, after negotiations.
The Board of Supervisors finalized an agreement with Kern County sheriff’s deputies and command staff to raise pay, invest in recruitment and retain local law enforcement.
“We went in and made strategic increases in salary,” Scrivner said. He added this investment resulted in pay raises, signing bonuses for new deputies, purchasing new patrol vehicles and funding a recruitment academy for the fourth year in a row.
“We invested at the end of that negotiation — $11.1 million into the sheriff’s department. That came from a $12.8 million increase in property taxes that we saw from ag (agriculture), commercial and residential,” said Scrivner.
State policies have decriminalized many offenses and many felonies have been reduced to misdemeanors.
Scrivner said he believes policies such as AB 109, Proposition 47 and Proposition 57 have pushed criminals out of jail and onto the streets, thus adding to Kern County’s homelessness crisis. People suspected of misdemeanor crimes are often just given a ticket, whether this is for possession of drugs, theft under $950 or other crimes.
“Nationwide, homelessness has gone up,” Scrivner said. He added, "California has about 12 or 13 percent of the nation’s population. We have about 33 percent of the homeless.”
Scrivner added that state policies that increase new housing costs — such as adding solar panels or mandated sprinkler systems — also contribute to homelessness.
To help alleviate the homeless problem, the Kern County Board of Supervisors has budgeted $2 million in the 2019-2020 fiscal year budget for this issue.
The county is building a low-barrier shelter on county land located at Golden State Avenue in Bakersfield that is slated to open in February. The shelter will provide food, drug counseling, employment assistance and hygiene facilities and laundry, Scrivner said in a slideshow presentation at the meeting.