Standard and Poor’s AAA Bond Rating Signals County’s Fiscal Health and Strong Management
Wasserman cited the recent action by Standard & Poor’s (S&P) that raised the County’s bond rating to triple A (AAA), the highest possible long term rating, as one example. S&P granted the upgrade noting the County’s strong budget flexibility and performance; and very strong management, financial policies, and consistent ability to maintain a balanced budget. The AAA Rating will mean that when the County has to borrow money, it will be able to do so at favorable interest rates.
Wasserman discussed the need to remain vigilant given that 75 percent of the County’s budget comes with strings attached from the federal and state governments and that in its ongoing review and analysis, County Administration already has projected a preliminary $25 million General Fund deficit for next fiscal year.
“The good news is that this is a much smaller deficit than any year over the past decade,” said Wasserman as he commented on the importance of ongoing review of County finances.
In addition, the Board received 97 Measure A proposals from various community-based organizations throughout Santa Clara County. And while $10 million dollars remains to be allocated, these requests for funding totaled nearly $46 million.
Wasserman said that his focus for 2014 will be to:
· Keep our residents safe;
· Deliver services in an efficient and cost-effective manner; and
· Educate the public on the services the County provides.
Keeping residents safe
Wasserman said that the County plays a huge role in public safety. The Sheriff’s Office makes over 10,000 arrests a year. The District Attorney’s Office prosecutes 40,000 cases each year. The County Probation Department supervises 18,000 people at any one time. This role has been further expanded by the shift of responsibilities from the State to the County that came with Public Safety Realignment.
This Realignment presents the County with new and difficult challenges in incarceration, re-entry, probation, and jail facilities. And these challenges require even more coordination among the stakeholders in the County justice system.
“As Chair of the Public Safety Committee, I look forward to working with the leaders of our justice system in developing strategies to leverage our county resources with those of the cities and schools to ensure our residents are safe,” remarked Wasserman. “We need coordination among these jurisdictions, and with our nonprofit partners. Non-profits like Community Solutions… which provide services to youth and families, helping them increase their self-reliance.”
He also mentioned a countywide coalition of health professionals, law enforcement officers, injury prevention specialists, elected officials, engineers, emergency medical responders, bicycle and pedestrian advocates, community organizations, and other traffic safety professionals that make up a public/private partnership known as the Traffic Safe Communities Network.
“The Traffic Safe Communities Network brings community partners together to encourage traffic safety, and most importantly, ensure that youngsters have safe routes to school. Walking or riding their bikes to school provides kids with a healthy start to their day and engages both their bodies and minds for the full day of learning ahead. This year, in my role as co-chair, we will continue integrating our youth education and law enforcement efforts to expand access to safe transportation options,” he said.
Delivering services in an efficient and cost-effective manner
“I will also use my term as Board President to raise the profile of the County’s efforts to solve the problem of homelessness,” he continued. “…our most vulnerable residents, men, women, and children, are those living on the streets.”
The County has made it a priority to end and prevent chronic homelessness through permanent supportive housing. Research shows that access to permanent supportive housing dramatically decreases chronically homeless individuals’ utilization of public services.
“Through our partnership with Destination Home, San Jose’s Housing Director, and the City of San Jose, we have helped 1,500 formerly homeless people improve their lives by obtaining or maintaining permanent supportive housing, he said.”
“Since the average chronically homeless person costs us about $60,000 each year and the solution costs about half that, this program clearly saves taxpayer dollars, and it is the right thing to do,” Wasserman said. “But we can’t stop there, we must find ways to prevent homelessness.”
Wasserman went on to say that one place to start is with foster youth: “This year we will begin addressing this challenge of homeless among foster children aging out of the system by launching two supportive housing programs specifically targeted for these vulnerable youth. This is one way the County is re-thinking how it provides needed services efficiently.”
The County’s Center for Leadership and Transformation, or CLT Program, is another example. It was created to provide employees at all levels of the organization, with tools to examine and transform how the County operates and provides services. Over the last year, the Departments of Planning, as well as Parks and Recreation, have launched employee-led, executive-sponsored, cross-functional initiatives to critically review their departmental operations. Those employees, whose daily work puts them closest to the customers and service delivery, suggested literally hundreds of recommendations for meaningful improvements.
“I have attended some of these working group meetings with the Planning staff and have been impressed with the creative outside the box ideas that are discussed. This work is ongoing and there are multiple teams at the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System and in Agriculture and Environmental Management, developing their recommendations now. The Center for Leadership and Transformation has engaged employees and created real efficiencies throughout our organization,” remarked Wasserman commending County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith and the hundreds of employees that have been a part of rethinking of how to provide services to the public.
Educating the public on the services the County provides
Wasserman plans to focus his efforts to inform the public about county services. He commented that County Government is often considered an invisible layer of government, but it is one that touches many lives daily.
“I have no illusions that the general public will ever have a full appreciation of what the County does, but I do believe we can do a better job of highlighting our services, so residents can get the help they need from us,” he remarked.
Earlier this month, Wasserman posted a short quiz online to give residents a fun way to test their knowledge of County government. The Quiz is not intended to be scientific. The most missed question on the quiz had to do with property taxes.
“Most people did not realize that when they write their property tax check, the County only keeps 18 cents of every dollar,” said Wasserman. “This is meaningful because if the public thinks that the County is taking large amounts of taxes and they don’t know what we do, then there is too much room for doubt about our value.”
He went on to say that these services are too important to be invisible to the public. “Throughout my year as President, I will showcase and personalize the services we provide, especially the most innovative and effective ones,” said Wasserman. “To help raise our visibility, I believe our County must improve its use of existing communication tools, and take advantage of the growth and popularity of social media.”
This would include development of mobile applications to help residents identify and access county services. Three smartphone Apps are now available: The Registrar of Voters App, SCCVOTE; The Vector Control App, SCCVECTOR; The Library District App, SCCL and there are others in the works as well. One is a Valley Medical Center way finder app to help people navigate around the campus. Another is a Parks trail App.
“These mobile Apps are just one of the ways our County is responding to the opportunities to modernize our operations and make County government more accessible,” he remarked.
“The County is working on many fronts to meet the diverse needs of our residents. Whether it is helping kids find a safe way to school, providing shelter for those living on the streets, making sure immunizations are given, answering 9-1-1 calls, inspecting restaurants, making our neighborhoods safe, providing world class healthcare, inspecting gas pumps, operating our jails, or caring for our Seniors and children, County government is protecting our residents, in one way or another, every minute of every day,” stated Wasserman.
“I pride myself on being referred to as having a head for numbers, and a heart for people,” Wasserman continued. “When I think about our role as the County, tasked with delivering vital services to the residents of one of the largest counties in the nation, I am convinced that by working together and using our heads and hearts, we can, and will, deliver real life help to our residents.”