At their Tuesday meeting, the Tulare County Supervisors approved an update to the county's final spending plan for $90.6 million in pandemic relief funds, just before placing delinquent water and sewer service fees on the tax bills of 199 customers in rural county service areas. Source: County of Tulare

July 25, 2023 — Tulare County Board of Supervisors

Documented by Dani Huerta

What happened: At Tuesday’s Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting, an update was approved to the county’s final spending plan for $90.6 million in pandemic relief funds, which decreased funding for homeless projects and COVID-19 support and increased funding for nonprofits and a new aquatic project.

The federal funds received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) were allocated to counties in response to the continued economic and public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall plan changes approved include the addition of a $900,000 aquatic project, an increase of funding to impacted nonprofit organizations and $4.6 million to the county’s self-funded health insurance plan COVID-19 claims. Funding was decreased for homeless projects, Cutler Park and payroll for county staff.

“In the category of negative economic impacts we did decrease funding for homeless projects, however I want to say that the projects still got accomplished,” said County Administrative Officer Jason Britt. “There had been a number of other grants received that made it more administratively feasible to use that funding.”

According to the county’s ARPA Final Recovery Plan, the aquatic project is to be located in a rural disadvantaged community with limited access to services, but the location has not yet been determined.

Britt gave a presentation on how the county allocated its $90.6 million in seven categories:

In the revenue replacement category, Britt said $10 million was received to spend “wherever it seemed fit for the county to spend without a lot of reporting requirements,” so the county focused its funding on replacing radio towers for public safety and park improvement projects.

Rural customers saddled with water debt: The supervisors approved the placement of delinquent water and sewer service fees, penalty fees and auditor’s collection charges onto the tax bills of 199 delinquent customers in County Service Areas 1 and 2, the Terra Bella Sewer Maintenance District and the Orosi Community Services District.

District 1 resident Reina Rodriguez said she is disappointed that the county didn’t use ARPA funds to help cover the delinquent fees and questioned whether Tulare County applied for a debt relief program for water bills, which she said has helped other communities, such as Coalinga.

Additionally, she said many people in the community are paying for water they cannot drink and asked that the county seek out assistance through bottled water replacement programs.

“These are communities that are going through a lot of devastation, many of these are farmworker communities and right now, just as we’ve heard from many of our farmers, there is crisis,” Rodriguez said. “There is crisis at hand and if our farmers are hurting, then that means our farmworkers are also hurting.”

Grand Jury recommends staffing jail food programs: The supervisors approved a response to the 2022-2023 Tulare County Grand Jury Final Report, “South County Detention Facility,” which recommended that the county source staffing and funding to open the facility’s kitchen and farm operations, rather than transporting pre-made food from the Bob Wiley Facility.

According to the report, the $72 million facility opened in 2019 for up to 519 inmates, yet the kitchen and inmate farm program has remained unstaffed and food has been pre-made at another facility and transported.

In their response, the supervisors agreed to the recommendations, and stated that they will be “implemented in the future when budgetary needs can be met.”

Up next: The Tulare County Board of Supervisors will meet again on Aug. 1 at 9 a.m.

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The Fresno Documenters are a group of local residents who are trained and paid to attend and take notes at local public meetings where officials decide how to spend public money and make important decisions...