Tulare County stays in strong position on all fronts

Chairman Dennis Townsend delivers state of the county, praises employees for keeping the county in strong position through much adversity

VISALIA – Tulare County has made several updates and expansions while also keeping a leveled and secure budget over the past year. Chairman Denis Townsend made sure county employees received the praise in his state of the county address.

Townsend, supervisor for district 5, gave the state of the county address at the April 4 board of supervisors meeting. In his address, Townsend explained how the county has worked incredibly hard through much adversity, not only recently dealing with the storms, but in other facets as well. Townsend said his theme for this year as chairman is “Building the Future.” He acknowledged there is much work to be done and many challenges to face as individuals, as communities and as a county.  He thanked several county entities for all the hard work that has been put in to allow him to say the county is in a strong position despite any difficulties.

“Tulare County has been going through several years of adversity and resistance which has tested our strength. But what these challenges have also demonstrated is our strength,” Townsend said. “So I can say with confidence, the state of Tulare County is strong.”

Townsend explained that when he first took the gavel as chairman in January, he was excited to say the county was finally on the upswing. The county was making a comeback from the historic fires and pandemic that caused shutdowns, workforce shortages as well as inflation pressures. On that day he had to proclaim the first local emergency from the first round of storms. Since that day in January the county has had to fight in many other ways to clean up from the tremendous atmospheric rivers that have hit the west coast bringing record numbers of rainfall and snowpack.

“I believe with continued effort and dedication and perseverance and by the grace of God, we will remain strong through the next season of challenges that we might encounter,” Townsend said about the future.

Recently chief administrative officer Jason Britt gave the board the mid year budget review. Townsend explained that conservative fiscal policy is an important tool used to help combat natural disasters, similar to the flooding the county has experienced. Despite the looming threat of economic uncertainty, Townsend said the county has insulated themselves by maintaining a low debt profile, conservative revenue estimating, investing in reserves and managing department growth. With the conservative policies in place, it has also allowed for relief from some of the inflation pressures the county has been feeling. Included in those pressures was a 7% cost of living adjustment the county was able to provide on an off cycle year.

“Rewarding staff for hard work and dedication is a great privilege of the board and well deserved by the county’s loyal and talented employees,” Townsend said. “Tulare County is committed to building the future and investing in the needs of our communities. Without a sound and balanced budget, none of these things are possible.”

The county’s human resources department has been working hard to recruit employees. They have even introduced a downpayment assistance program to help their employees afford a home and remain long term in their employment. Townsend said the county was also awarded the excellence for high performance leadership award in 2022 for placing first in the nation in enrollment in the National Association of Counties high performance Leadership Academy. The course teaches front line government professionals practical leadership skills. Throughout 2022, the county hired 596 new employees. There are plans to modernize the payroll system, provide customer service training and update the wellness programs.

The county’s IT department, (TCICT) held a large role in modernizing several county departments. Townsend said the Tulare County Assessor’s Office is modernizing the department in a handful of ways. Recently, they have launched a modern property tax computer system. It now allows all taxpayers to access county property tax information accurately, efficiently and securely online. They also launched a similar program that provides public access to parcel maps, addresses, lot sizes, property characteristics all online. They are additionally scanning over three million property tax documents to make them accessible by all departments staff. Townsend said it was the IT department who has facilitated all of the updates.

TCICT also held a huge role in helping several mountain communities use updated technology in the 2022 election. For several communities, it was the first time they were able to vote using technology that allowed votes to be processed in a way that others have experienced for several years.

In 2022, the county experienced an increase of 6.9% in our property assessment, which topped out at just over $43 billion. In addition to that, workday facilitators added $260 million in construction value here in Tulare County. The Resource Management Agency pulled over 4,000 building permits, performed over 3,000 code compliance inspections, completed 550 planning projects and abated around 90 abandoned vehicles.

As far as Health and Human Services, Townsend said they helped a tremendous amount of people throughout 2022. The veterans office assisted over 2000 veterans, Animal Services responded to over 6000 calls and facilitated about 700 pet adoptions and spayed and neutered over 2000 animals. The county’s counseling advocates held counseling sessions with 417 Medicare beneficiaries and five outreach advocates reached over 3500 beneficiaries through 31 community presentations.

The county is expanding their public health laboratory by adding an additional 2,600 square feet to their existing laboratory testing space. They are also building out their own crisis stabilization unit in partnership with Kaweah Health. It will provide 24 hour crisis intervention care for youth 21 and under and currently is proposed to be 5,000 square feet and have 12 beds.

“The physical infrastructure we build gives the future of Tulare County a fighting chance and sometimes even a second chance,” Townsend said.

The probation department has also created and opened a new secure youth treatment facility. The facility takes on a community centered approach. It allows several partners to come together to provide the public with a variety of services including life skill classes, therapy sessions, vocational training, mentorship opportunities and more. The state mandated focus has shifted from punitive measures and confinement to treatment and support according to Townsend.

The resource management agency completed one of the largest road maintenance efforts last year. It repaired and overlaid 37 miles of roadway at a value of $19  million. In the upcoming year, there are several roads and bridges that will be repaired as part of the county’s efforts to repair storm damages. As far as water, Townsed said the board assumed the role of administrator for the East Orosi Water System with the hope of bringing water to residents in the area and increasing water security.

This last year, the county museum partnered with Visit Visalia to become a certified autism center. That partnership allowed Visalia to become the first Certified Autism Destination in the state.

Townsend was sure to bring up expansions as well as partnerships as well. The county did purchase property in Earlimart and Pixlet for two new sheriff substations. The county also sold the only Tulare Pixley Courthouse to the city of Tulare, who will be turning it into a business incubator. Also in Tulare, the county entered into a lease agreement for property on the county’s Hillman Campus. The city of Tulare will be building a homeless shelter with 25% of the bed capacity reserved for the city.

As far as law enforcement goes, Townsend celebrated district Attorney Tim Ward and his office for battling the “immense uphill challenge” of prosecuting crime in California. He also applauded the Sheriff’s department for their unwavering dedication to serving the people of the county. Townsend gave a shout out to Tulare County Fire, for all they have done when it comes to the 100,000 acre fires without a civilian injury. And now all they have done with the tremendous amounts of flooding that hit the county.

“They’ve been exemplary in their response to these disasters and I’m talking about the disasters over several years,” Townsend said.

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