County budgets for public safety improvements

Tulare County’s 2022-23 FY budget makes major investments in public safety facilities as General Fund surpasses the $1 billion mark for the first time ever

VISALIA – Tulare County Administration announced plans for capital improvement projects, disaster management and more for the upcoming fiscal year after the county’s General Fund surpassed the $1 billion mark for the first time ever.

The 2022-23 fiscal year will have a General Fund budget of $1.1 billion, a $101.2 million increase from last year’s budget. The record breaking total budget of $1.8 billion was fueled by record revenue from all forms of taxes in 2021-22 including property tax ($41.8 billion), Proposition 172 public safety tax ($63 million), and sales tax ($20 million).

“It shows that Tulare County continues to grow and continues to provide needed services to our community,” County Administrative Officer (CAO) Jason Britt said.

Britt also revealed plans to use $79.6 million for eight, major capital projects, four of which contribute directly to public safety. Nearly three quarters of the funding, approximately $57.3 million, is being focused towards the Sequoia Field Program Facility, a new morgue, a remodel for the Terra Bella Fire Station and the demolition of the Tulare County Main Jail.

The Sequoia Field airport north of Visalia will be converted into a North County Jail with the help of $44.9 million in this year’s budget. The 256-bed adult detention facility will contain multiple programs and rooms for self-help, rehabilitation and education. The building will also have medical areas, intake, release and processing, an interview room, maintenance area, property room, intake office, pedestrian and vehicular sally ports to get in and out of the building, a laundry area, food staging room and a day reporting center.

As the county continues to grow and more people decide to settle here, that means more people are, eventually, dying here as well, so $4.9 million is going toward the construction of a new morgue facility to replace the old one. The facility, which will be built adjacent to the current morgue, is expected to provide enough capacity for the coming population increases over the next few decades. The new morgue will be able to undertake 51 bodies compared to just 12 at the current facility.

Terra Bella, located south of Porterville, is getting a remodeled fire station with $4 million in funding to support the fire department’s newest fire engines, which do not fit in the station’s current garages. Some fire stations in the county were constructed in the 1940s and 50s, and stations need to adapt as the county continues to grow. The project was first mentioned in 2020, in an annual report from Tulare County Fire, and is anticipated to be completed this year.

Finally, $3.5 million of the capital projects will go towards the demolition of the Tulare County Main Jail. It is still unclear what use the county will make of the empty lot after the jail’s demolition and the decision for it will be determined at a later date.

The remaining capital projects consist of $8.2 million to rehabilitate parks; $5.5 million to make energy efficiency upgrades to county facilities, $3.6 million to expand the Tulare County Public Health Laboratory, and $1 million to lower wells at county facilities in response to the drought. 

“We have wells that we have to maintain, we have water levels we have to maintain,” Britt said. “We want to make sure we have some money set aside to address some of those impacts from the drought for county facilities [and] purposes.”

The county also has a robust amount of outside money from state and federal programs and grants. The Tulare County Fire Department received $148,000 for more tools and supplies, the County Road Fund received $37.3 million in state Transportation Improvement Program funding to repair roads, Solid Waste received $8 million to expand the Woodville Landfill and heavy equipment, and Transit is getting $1.7 million to purchase five new CNG buses to replace its diesel-fueled fleet. 

The prior fiscal year yielded many accomplishments, including maintaining a contingency budget at $5 million for unexpected costs; adding $5 million to the Capital Improvement Plan; transferring $4.9 million to the Sheriff’s Department to pay off for the Motorola dispatch system for the fire and sheriff’s department; transferring $1.7 million to IT infrastructure upgrades and special projects; allocating $543,000 to the the Homelessness and Community Activity Fund; and assigning $500,000 to upgrade human resources and payroll systems.

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