This past year presented a variety of opportunities and challenges for me and Madera County, all of which were taken on with the goal of serving people and building a better way of life.
One of my top priorities in 2015 was to adhere to healthy budget goals. As you may recall, five years ago the county had a deficit of over $12 million dollars. A few years later Chief Administrative Officer Eric Fleming, and his fiscal team, created a Cost Reduction Plan that was enforced by county supervisors reducing the deficit to $2.3 million last year, 2014/2015.
In July the board approved the 2015/2016 budget consisting of $230 million, approximately $20 million more than the 2014/2015 annual budget and finally erasing our deficit.
At one time Madera County employed 1,700 plus people which, during the difficult times, declined to 900 plus people who maintained the same work load. Current staff levels are approximately 1,150 ultimately increasing effectiveness and efficiency to assist constituents.
A huge 2015 win was the A+ credit rating the county received from Standard & Poors. This grade, which is the best it has been in over a decade, will save taxpayers money, allow for future savings, and qualify the county to apply for additional grant funding. Thanks to our new auditor Todd Miller, who got our state audit done on time for the first time in decades.
In 2015 we completed a number of facility and capital improvement projects including: the new Madera County Sheriff’s Office which nearly doubled in size and was move-in ready as of July as well as ADA upgrades to the main branch of the Madera County Library in May.
Additionally, we have completed $10 million in solar projects on our Government Center building parking garage, the library and our jail compound property. This is already providing considerable savings on our PG&E bill.
I also pushed hard to get the old chamber building next to the Oakhurst Branch Library removed.
2015 proved to be especially eventful for myself and District 5 as a number of services were created or enhanced. For instance the Bass Lake Planning Office increased its three-day schedule to five days and our district attorney opened an Oakhurst office.
Additionally, Oakhurst received one additional sheriff to respond in the area and Serenity Village opened its doors to help homeless veterans have a place to live and get back on their feet.
In regards to transportation, Madera County Connection added five new bus stop shelters, purchased four new buses and is working on rebranding.
Lastly, with my continued persistence, the Fresno Council of Governments contracted with YARTS in order to expand their route to include the Highway 41 corridor with service from Fresno to Yosemite National Park.
With the help of my dedicated staff I was able to host nearly a dozen Town Hall meetings this year throughout Ahwahnee, Bass Lake, Coarsegold, North Fork, Oakhurst, Raymond, and Yosemite Lakes Park.
Town Hall topics included: Fire safety, prevention and current conditions; the state mandated Residential Curbside Recycling Program that rolled out in partnership with EMADCO; need-based discussions for individual maintenance districts; the Residential Wood Burning Rule; grey water and rain water resources; Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating updates and next steps; and Neighborhood Watch Programs.
At each Town Hall meeting I made sure a county specialist was available to answer specific questions and I had a number of supporting speakers including the U.S. Forest Service Bass Lake Ranger District, CalFire, Camareana Health, San Joaquin Valley Air Quality Control Board, and California Highway Patrol.
In addition to our regularly scheduled Town Hall meetings I hosted a few special meetings on public safety, homelessness, and the bark beetle epidemic.
As Chairman of the San Joaquin Valley Air Quality Board this year, I pushed the Air Board to include Eastern Madera County in the list of cities eligible for grant dollars for wood stove and fireplace inserts in their replacement program. Madera County used the second highest amount of money that was available within all of the right counties.
While all county residents were heavily impacted by the drought this year, Eastern Madera County also encountered challenges associated with catastrophic wild fire and increasing tree mortality rates. This year four wildland fires (Sky, Willow, Musik, and Rough) burned a total of 156,525 acres. I cannot say enough about the fantastic partnership we have with CalFire, USFS, PG&E and others to best serve our communities during these times of emergency.
In September I brought an emergency proclamation to the board of supervisors declaring a county-wide emergency due to tree mortality which passed 5-0. By mid-October I was in direct communication with the governor’s office and by the end of October the governor declared a statewide emergency. Currently I am participating in the governor’s tree mortality task force meetings and continuing to push for opportunities to assist private land owners.
Other notable accomplishments in 2015:
* The Auditor’s Office successfully completed the audit ahead of schedule.
* A Compensation Salary Study was completed for all of our employees.
* The Cost Allocation Plan continued to be implemented successfully.
* The Chukchansi MOU was approved in order to support re-opening efforts of the Casino.
* Recreational opportunities were identified and pursued.
* Established a well meter ordinance mandating the installation of water flow meters and water level measuring devises on all new water wells and replacement water wells to promote proper measurement and management of groundwater usage and levels.
* Participating agency signed on to the Joint Power Authority to support ground water regulations, and Ground Water Authority was established in partnership with stakeholders.
* The establishment of the Inter-Agency Community Collaborative (IACC) that met quarterly throughout the year to increase county/community conversations regarding education and youth efforts.
* Madera County ranked No. 1 for the best place for manufacturing jobs – published by Newgeography.com.
* Madera County ranked No.1 on Forbes’ list of America’s Strongest Farming and Agribusiness Region.
* Madera County ranked No.49 on Forbes’ list of the Best Small Places for Business and Careers under their Job Growth ranking.
* Big Brothers Big Sisters, in partnership with Madera County, established its first program in Eastern Madera County - “Big Brothers Big Sisters High School Bigs Program” which consists of 20 Yosemite High School students mentoring 20 Oakhurst Elementary School students. Thank you True Value Hardware for your generous donation to make this program possible.
* High Speed Rail broke ground – while I have traditionally not supported the project I am currently fighting to get the maintenance yard located in Madera County in order to have more high paying jobs and to improve our local economic conditions.
* Road 274 and Road 200 received a combination of road maintenance, chip seal, tree removal and fuel break maintenance in partnership with stakeholders.
* I worked hard to keep our development fees lowered to help boost our economy.
The year’s successes are a tribute to the professional staff, dedicated leadership team and public participation. In January the new elected official team was sworn in and included familiar faces such as myself and Supervisor David Rogers as well as some new faces including Supervisor Brett Frazier, Sheriff Jay Varney, District Attorney David Linn, and Auditor Todd Miller.
This only touches on some of the important steps forward we took this year that I am very proud of. I cannot say enough about the dedicated Madera County team that we have in place currently and I am taking steps to encourage growth to build that team.
The work doesn’t end here. We have a big list ahead of us for 2016 and I will continue to expect the best for all of the constituents I represent.