Tulare County Board responds to Grand Jury’s recommendations

Photo by Rigo Moran

Board of Supervisors agree with Grand Jury’s recommendation to add new member to task force on homeless, disagrees on implementing new database

TULARE COUNTY – In response to some recommendations from the Tulare County Civil Grand Jury on what changes need to be made amongst various government entities and districts, the county has opted to roll with some of the suggestions while deciding against going along with others.

The Tulare County Civil Grand Jury (TCCGJ) posted its 2023-24 final report to its website on June 18. A major function of the TCCGJ is to examine county and city government entities, special and school districts, and any joint powers agencies operating within the county to ensure their duties are being carried out lawfully; and as a fact-finding entity, the TCCGJ hands down constructive recommendations to wide range of local governmental issues.

The TCCGJ report cited the latest Point in Time (PIT) count of homeless in Tulare County. According to the count for the year of 2023, out of over 1,000 individuals who were reported as homeless, 65 were veterans. The report acknowledged there are no services for veterans in Visalia, and veterans who are looking for temporary or permanent housing in Visalia must contact Veterans Affairs in Fresno.

Because the county’s population of homeless veterans is not abating – there were 48 in the 2019 PIT count – the TCCGJ recommended to the Board that the Tulare County Task Force on Homelessness add a veteran as a voting member to the task force.

In response to this recommendation, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors agreed that the task force on homelessness should add a veteran to its roster of voting members. In its letter to Nathan D. Ide, Assistant Presiding Judge of the Superior Court, the Board said the recommendation should be implemented within six months. In order for this to occur, the Task Force on Homelessness must amend its bylaws to add another member, which it took up at its May 15, 2024 meeting.

TCCGJ also recommended that HHSA develop a comprehensive database that all agencies who work with homeless populations can access. According to the TCCGJ, “The database would reduce the time needed to obtain services and help coordinate the support needed to assist unhoused individuals sooner.”

The Board responded that this database already exists in the form of Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). According to the Board, multiple agencies utilize HMIS. These include county and state agencies, service providers, faith-based organizations and medical assistance agencies.

In its letter to Ide, the Board said that organizations looking to access HMIS can apply to the Kings Tulare Homeless Alliance (KTHA) for permission. The Board noted that some entities, such as police departments, cannot access or have limited access to HMIS. This is to ensure individuals are comfortable sharing their information without the fear that it may be used for enforcement purposes.

The Board noted HMIS brings together services providers with the homeless community. It also stated that developing an independent system would not be practicable as it would duplicate the purpose of HMIS.

The Board also informed the TCCGJ that the county’s Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) has an existing database widely available to agencies and services providers and that developing a second database would not be practicable.

EXETER PUBLIC CEMETERY DISTRICT

TCCGJ received a complaint regarding the Exeter Public Cemetery District (EPCD), which includes Hamilton Cemetery, Exeter Cemetery and Deep Creek Cemetery.

The Grand Jury gave EPCD basically high marks when it toured the cemeteries. Deep Creek, in particular, is one of the oldest cemeteries in the county and has been without a working source of water for the past 10 years. Despite this fact, TCCGJ noted that all three cemeteries were very green but were in need of upkeep.

Drought and lack of revenue have hampered maintenance of the cemeteries. Money for upkeep comes from property taxes, sale of burial plots and vault liners. In 2022, district voters rejected a tax that would have $270,000 to install a new well at Deep Creek.

Overall, the TCCGJ made three recommendations to the Board on the district. One, ECPD should increase its board members to five. State regulations mandate the board should have three to five members. But due to insufficient members, the ECPD Board has been unable to establish a quorum, which has led to delays in making business decisions.

The second recommendation was that ECPD should continue with efforts to improve its website. These improvements consist of updating prior postings of required public information and enduring that the district meets all required disclosure requirements concerning public information.

The final recommendation was that the ECPD Board “should become familiar with and ensure full training and compliance with all state laws concerning public district cemeteries.”

TCCGJ asked that the Board be required to respond to its first recommendation, and in its May 7, 2024 letter to Judge Ide, the Board noted the recommendation has been implemented.

At the Board’s March 19, 2024 meeting, the supervisors approved the expansion of the ECPD Board from three to five members. At its May 7, 2024 meeting, the Board appointed Kirk J. Gilles and Marci Harness to the ECPD Board.

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