After nearly two years of pandemic life in Stanislaus County and beyond, Board of Supervisors Chairman Terry Withrow gave his 2022 State of the County address Tuesday night and shared what he believes the agency has done right during a time when so many have focused on the wrong.
Withrow reflected on the past 23 months, which have seen Supervisors faced with making public health decisions to protect county residents, dealing with state and federal mandates and, at times, questioning those orders.
He mourned the nearly 1,600 Stanislaus County residents who have succumbed to COVID-19 during that time. The Chairman thanked county health service leaders Mary Ann Lilly and Dr. Julie Vaishampayan for their integrity during trying times, and noted the county’s accomplishments despite recent hardships.
“The opinions on what we should or shouldn’t do have often been split. The criticisms of our actions have been constant; we’ve been damned if we do and damned if we don’t, but that’s okay,” Withrow said. “For it is the ‘doing’ during this pandemic, from our Board and staff, that I am the proudest of…That’s what true leadership is all about and I couldn’t be prouder of how Stanislaus County government has responded during these trying times.”
Stanislaus County is in one of its strongest financial positions yet thanks to COVID relief funds, and has received $216 million, or 15% of its budget, since the pandemic began. The county’s ag-heavy economy also allowed for sales tax revenues and property values to remain unscathed, but running COVID testing sites, producing public information campaigns, providing personal protective equipment, conducting contact tracing and more has cost $118 million to date.
Some of that cost went to grants and nonprofits, however, and Stanislaus County distributed $15 million in direct cash assistance to its nine cities — one of just six counties in the state to do so.
“...our proportion was nearly double anyone else in the state,” Withrow said. “This level of support demonstrates our strong commitment to the success of our local cities and our appreciation for the basic services they provide to the vast majority of Stanislaus County residents each day.”
The county is debt free, with the exception of an 80%-funded unfunded pension plan, and its general fund balance is healthy at $254 million. One sign of fiscal health in the county is the reopening of the Sheriff substation in Salida, which will take place by mid-April, and the effort to open more is pertinent as the Sheriff’s department seized 305 pounds of heroin, methamphetamines, fentanyl and cocaine over the last year along with 30,486 pounds of processed marijuana and 228,804 marijuana plants. The department seized $886,000 in cash and 145 firearms as well.
“The lack of consequences for these crimes continues to affect the quality of life of all in our community. I believe as a society, our mission and obligation is to help and support those who are troubled, not to enable and accept their path to hell,” Withrow said. “We must continue to seek reforms in this area from our state representatives to grant us the ability to end the cycle of lawlessness we are currently facing.”
Withrow highlighted progress with the county’s infrastructure, which includes phase one of the new state route 132, as well as the celebration of the remodeled public library in Turlock.
He also touted the $158 billion budget for the Department of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, which has focused on getting help to those in need through a new strategic plan focused on those most in need of treatment for severe mental illness or experiencing a mental health crisis. Court approved conservatorships have more than doubled the number of conserved individuals to an average of 230 in the County on any given day, providing them with a roof over their head, three meals a day and needed medical treatment.
In the area of homelessness, accomplishments by the county include:
· The opening of a Low Barrier Shelter with 182 beds.
· The Kansas House – a converted hotel housing up to 225 individuals, providing the next level above a shelter and a bridge to traditional housing.
· The deployment of Outreach and Engagement teams, working daily to get individuals off the streets and into services and housing.
· The deployment of a Community Assessment Response and Engagement team to work specifically the most acute of the homeless population.
· Initial stages of tiny homes being placed on certain excess properties supplied by participating churches.
· The Conversion of blighted properties into workforce housing
Despite the county’s success over the last two years, Withrow said the current state of affairs in America have left him troubled, alluding to political polarization and the inability to compromise. He urged the community to live life rather than to survive, and to get back to churches, synagogues, temples and mosques so that the community can be built up once more.
“Let’s get back to living,” Withrow said.