Documented by Dani Huerta
What happened: At their Tuesday meeting, the Tulare County Supervisors held a public hearing and adopted the county’s $1.98 billion balanced final budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year.
County Administrative Officer Jason T. Britt presented the budget and capital projects for the year ahead, which includes $10.6 million for a mental health supportive housing facility in Visalia, $9.2 million for a behavioral health urgent care, $6.5 million for parks improvements funded by American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and $5.3 million for demolition of the main jail.
Britt said the county finished the 2022-23 budget year in a strong financial position. The general fund budget increased from $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion and the county’s long-term debt is $242.9 million.
Rural residents voice concerns: Residents of the rural communities of Matheny Tract and Pixley spoke during the public comment portion of the budget hearings, asking supervisors for sidewalks, lighting and investment in infrastructure that their communities lack.
Clarence Ogens, a member of the Matheny Tract Committee, said it has been years since the county invested in the community, and asked supervisors to consider resurfacing the streets and providing a park or recreation center for the hundreds of children and youth living there.
“The last time we had services for our community was half a century ago,” he said. “We had lights and we had one dirt road.”
Another Matheny resident Sarah Salas said she has lived in the community since she was in kindergarten and asked for sidewalks, traffic control and water catchment to help prevent flooding and stagnant water.
“I’m worried about our kids in our community, and something needs to be done,” she said.
Through a translator, Mario Arevalo, a 47-year resident of Pixley, said the air in her community is polluted by a nearby dairy digester, and the more than 20 dairies that surround it, and that residents need assistance to weatherize homes, a cooling center, a market to buy fresh food and youth services.
Emma De La Rosa, regional policy manager with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, also advocated on behalf of the low-income communities and Tooleville, saying that they are overdue for basic infrastructure. She said that a grant application is pending to assist Matheny, but that residents can’t wait.
After hearing the comments, Vice Chair and District 1 Supervisor Larry Micari said that he believes many of the issues can be resolved by calling the Resource Management Department for code compliance and road issues or the California Highway Patrol for speeding.
He referenced a letter from the Leadership Counsel, and said that work would be done in April 2024 to address some of their concerns, but put the onus of applying for grants to help the communities on the nonprofit advocacy organization, rather than the county.
“If Leadership Council was claiming to represent these organizations, then why are they not seeking the grants?” he asked. “That’s something that needs to be done.”
Tooleville is in the district Micari represents, while Matheny and Pixley are in District 2, represented by Supervisor Pete Vander Poel III.
Vander Poel didn’t respond directly to the concerns expressed during the meeting, but said that the county used ARPA funds to help address some of community’s needs, which he said was unlike other counties that used the funds for “ongoing needs.
“Have we met every need? No, we have not,” he said. “There’s always work to do, but I’m darn proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
Up next: The Tulare County Board of Supervisors will meet again on Sept. 26.