USDA undersecretary visits Lindsay

By Reggie Ellis

Thomas Dorr had never been to Lindsay prior to his visit on Aug. 15 - but his signature has been there millions of times.

Dorr, director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development branch, along with local and state USDA representatives, were greeted by a Mariachi band and treated to an authentic Mexican lunch at Lindsay City Hall to celebrate a partnership that has helped lead to $96 million in development projects over the last 20 years.

&#8220The government takes a lot of your money and we are proud to say that we do a good job of getting some of it back to you,” Dorr said to a round of laughs.

Since 1987, USDA has provided Lindsay with $38.7 million for projects ranging from $30,000 for hybrid patrol cars to $3 million for the city's one-stop health care facility known as the Wellness Center. A series of glossy posters laid out the projects that received a portion of their funding from USDA.

Dorr said when he returned to Washington, D.C. he wanted to literally make Lindsay the poster child for partnerships by displaying the posters in the main entrance of the USDA's office.

&#8220Lindsay is one of the premier communities that we work with,” Dorr. &#8220What they have accomplished over the past 20 years is nothing short of phenomenal.”

Lindsay Mayor Ed Murray credited USDA money for helping the city fund a new water system when it was on the brink of bankruptcy following the orange freeze of 1990. Murray said the water system was aging and dilapidated, with the city losing a tremendous amount of water every day.

&#8220We couldn't have made it this far without the partnership with USDA,” Murray said.

On behalf of the city of Lindsay, Murray presented USDA officials with a gift bag including a mug and T-shirt with the city's emblems.

&#8220I'm glad that in four years your city will be celebrating a centennial instead of something else,” Dorr said.

Dorr said USDA-RD acts as an investment bank for rural communities looking for funding to begin capital improvement projects through a combination of grants and low-interest loans. He said USDA has an investment portfolio of $92 billion in rural communities. Loans must be paid back to the government, usually over a period of 30 years, yet have a default rate of less than 1.6%.

A corn and soybean farmer from Iowa, Dorr said he knows the monetary challenges that rural communities like Lindsay face each year.

&#8220We learned many years ago that the majority of people living in rural communities are doing something other than agriculture,” Dorr said. &#8220

One loan for housing in a community helps a few families become homeowners. Now that their family has a permanent address, a safe place for their kids and equity in their home they immediately have a stake in the community.”

Tour of Tulare County

Earlier in the day, Dorr was joined by Congressman Devin Nunes at the Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting to present checks totaling more than $7 million to six communities in Tulare County.

Among the projects is one which will provide world-class dental treatment to children in the Cutler-Orosi, Lindsay, and Woodlake Union school districts.

Under the remote supervision of pediatric dentists via videoconference from the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, a registered dental hygienist will provide preventive oral health treatments and education to children of agricultural workers. As needed, eHealth staff will then work closely with families to address access to care and coordinate with local dental providers. The program should be operational by this fall and plans are being made to build on the success of these initial three school sites.

A $3 million check was presented to the City of Exeter to drill two new water wells. Exeter currently operates a well that does not meet drinking standards to keep up with demand during the summer months. The project is currently under construction.

USDA money is also being used to provide good quality water in the low-income rural communities of Plainview and Tooleville.

USDA has promised $375,000 to drill a new well in Tooleville and a $1 million to replace existing water lines, run lines underground, build a new pressure tank and add fire hydrants in Plainview.

&#8220Rural America enjoys tremendous opportunities, and I'm always pleased to see where USDA Rural Development is working with community leaders to turn those opportunities into realities,” said Dorr.

USDA has invested an unprecedented amount of money in Tulare County communities over the last several years.

Since the start of the Bush Administration, USDA Rural Development has invested in Tulare County nearly $14 million in business development, $26.5 million for infrastructure and community facilities, and nearly $39 million for affordable housing. Dorr and Nunes presented the Tulare County Board of Supervisors with a ceremonial check in the amount of $79 million to reflect this total investment.

&#8220Numbers, however, don't tell the whole story,” Dorr said. &#8220Our success is measured by water lines laid, hospitals built, and broadband connections made. Success is businesses started and jobs created. It is families moving into new homes, and affordable rental housing in small towns.

&#8220Whether it's an ethanol plant or industrial park, a day care center or a critical care medical facility, investments made by USDA Rural Development are building a better future for rural residents in Tulare County and throughout the nation.”

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