Leaders meet to discuss county’s future

Madera County leaders gathered for a two-day summit at the Pines Resort in Bass Lake to discuss the county’s vision for its future on issues such as roads and tree mortality.
Madera County leaders gathered for a two-day summit at the Pines Resort in Bass Lake to discuss the county’s vision for its future on issues such as roads and tree mortality. Sierra Star

Last week Madera County leaders wrapped up a two-day strategic planning and management workshop at Bass Lake, the first step in creating a 30-year vision for the county’s future.

The workshop, held for its fourth straight year, provided an opportunity for everyone from the Board of Supervisors to department heads and staff a chance to voice concerns and ideas behind key elements of the county, such as road projects or tree mortality, and to identify challenges.

“I think this gets us all thinking in the same direction with the same goals,” said Eric Fleming, the county’s chief administrative officer. “And one of our main goals is to be efficient and maximize savings for our taxpayers. I think if we’re all working towards the same thing, we’re saving a lot more money than it costs us if we’re putting it all together one piece at a time.”

During the meeting, held at the Pines Resort, discussion centered around six key items: public safety, water use, roads, tree mortality, marketing, and cooperation between government agencies.

Among these were the county’s goals to hunt for grant money and further protect property owners from dying trees, support the proposed Temperance Flat Dam and other water storage projects, and find funding for two firefighters at every station alongside additional sheriff’s deputies after voters rejected Measure L last month.

Officials discussed county successes including Sustainable Ground Water Act compliance, the youthful offender fire starter program, improved auditor reporting, the countywide rate study for all special districts, and a variety of grant awards and state recognitions.

County gaps included county roads and infrastructure improvement needs, lack of public safety personnel and the need to increase community engagement. A variety of other challenges and opportunities were discussed many of which included laws and regulations that start at the federal and state level and cause fiscal and administrative challenges to local government.

“An opportunity for department heads and mid-level managers to get together as an entire group to coordinate planning for the future is invaluable,” Sheriff Jay Varney said. “Each year we have met like this has resulted in better solutions for Madera County residents.”

Bill Chiat, with the California State Association of Counties, said the retreat provided a rare opportunity for county leaders to talk freely outside of supervisor meetings and other structured settings.

“Doing this annual workshop gives all of them a chance to get away from the everyday work they have to focus on, and allow them to think about what the county’s doing and where they want it to go,” Chiat said. “Then that can all be worked on, and taken back to the board to implement the best ideas possible.”

Conversations during the two-day event included compliance with the state’s Sustainable Ground Water Act, youthful arson offenders, improvements to auditor reporting - the county received an A+ credit rating in 2015 under then newly-elected Todd Miller - and how to improve county roads and infrastructure.

Several leaders said they couldn’t remember the last time Madera County created a long-term vision plan.

Max Rodriguez, the 2017 board of supervisors chair, called the workshop “uplifting and constructive.”

“In my 25 years working for county I can truly say that we are turning a corner ... there are positive things ahead of us,” said Raymond Huerta, building maintenance supervisor.