Tulare treats fed funding like New Deal

Mayor Dennis Mederos says Tulare will use American Rescue Plan funding to invest in infrastructure, facilities similar to Depression-era New Deal construction projects

TULARE – Pundits have compared President Joe Biden’s funding in response to the global pandemic to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal funding in response to the Great Depression. Tulare Mayor Dennis Mederos not only agrees, he wants to insure it has the same impact on Tulare that it did 90 years ago.

During his State of the City address on Aug. 27, Mederos said the city plans on using most of its $18 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for infrastructure and permanent buildings.

Signed into law by President Biden in May, the $1.9 trillion in ARPA funding can be used for a variety of projects including infrastructure improvements in water, sewer and broadband internet access and for a broad category of funding to “support government services.” Mederos said the funding is an opportunity to make foundational improvements in the city in the same way the New Deal helped build Tulare City Hall and the Elliott Auditorium in 1936.

“Those buildings were built 90 years ago and are still in use today,” Mederos said. “I want to use this money on infrastructure and permanent buildings that will stand for another 90 years.”

ARPA funding will also help the city balance the current fiscal year budget which began with a $5.2 million deficit. Through a variety of cuts, the city was able to trim that to an $863,000 deficit. Now, thanks to federal and state funding to help cities offset the costs of their COVID-19 response, Mederos was happy to report the budget would be balanced by the end of the fiscal year.

“The state of your city is great,” Mederos said.

While the pandemic may have shut down many businesses in the city, Mederos noted it did not have a negative effect on commercial retail development. Tax revenues for the city have remained steady despite projections they would fall significantly due to the impacts of COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, local companies Component Coffee and Quesadilla Gorilla have announced locations in Tulare, national chicken craze Raising Cane’s will open a Tulare location this month and Dutch Bros. Coffee will be opening soon. More importantly, Mederos noted Tulare is now home to an In-N-Out burger, somewhat of a status symbol for a city.

“Tulare was attractive to them and this is just the beginning of what’s to come,” Mederos said from the banquet hall at the International Agri-Center.

In late 2022, the city will break ground on a $53 million reconstruction of Commercial Way/Highway 99 interchange into the International AgriCenter Way cloverleaf interchange. The city council renamed the roadway in May after it was suggested by the Agri-Center, which is home to the World Ag Expo, which brings Tulare County $30.9 million in economic output, supported 384 jobs and contributed $12.6 million in labor income. The project will also pave the way for improvements to the Paige Avenue interchange.

The improvements are key for the world’s largest agriculture equipment show which has plans to get even larger. Mederos said the Agri-Center has announced plans to expand its showgrounds which already span more than 600 acres with 2.6 million square feet of exhibitor space. Agri-Center CEO Jerry Sinift said the interchange will not only improve traffic flows but bring restaurants and hotels to the grounds and build a stand-alone facility for indoor conventions and livestock and equestrian events.

He also noted improvements to the Cartmill Avenue interchange at Highway 99, which will bring a new clinic from Tulare-based Altura Centers for Health, a nonprofit network of federally qualified health centers.

Supervisor Pete Vander Poel, who represents District 2 which covers Tulare south to the county line along Highway 99, said the county had made some significant strides in dealing with homelessness in Tulare. He said the county is currently repairing the insufficient sewer system at the former 99 Palms Motel to reopen what is now known as Tagus Gardens. The project will provide 56 units of permanent supportive housing to the homeless. He also said the county has not “shelved” but pushed back plans to convert the Hillman Center into a low barrier shelter, a key step in providing enough beds to enforce ordinances against the homeless settling into encampments along roadways, in parks and vacant properties.

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