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State of the County Address - February 10, 2009

 

County Seal

Supervisor Liz Kniss

STATE OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY - 2009

 

It is my honor to serve as President of the Board.

I’d like to start this afternoon by introducing my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors.

Since 1998 District 1 has been represented by the charming Don Gage, who hails from Gilroy. Some of Don’s most impressive work has been on behalf of the many homeless in our county. Don initiated the Blue Ribbon Commission on Ending Homelessness and through that entity created collaborations that get to the heart of barriers to housing. He has championed the Housing Trust, an organization that increases the number of affordable housing units through a mix of corporate and community investors, including our County. And, Don has been an advocate of transit solutions at the local and regional level. He still has time left with us, but I am certain these areas will stand out as an important part of his legacy.

District 1 encompasses 70 percent of the county's land area. It includes the Almaden Valley, Santa Teresa, and the Blossom Valley areas of San Jose, as well as Gilroy, Los Gatos, Morgan Hill, San Martin, the Mt. Hamilton Range, and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Ken Yeager joined the Board of Supervisors in 2006 to represent District 4. Ken is a health enthusiast who often advocates for health issues. He has actively sought opportunities to participate at the local, regional, and state level in many areas of importance to the community. Ken sits with me on both the VTA Board of Directors and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board. Ken was recently selected as a member of the California Air Board.

District 4 represents the cities of Campbell and Santa Clara, as well as West San Jose and the Burbank and Cambrian neighborhoods.

2009 brings to us two new members of the Board. First, George Shirakawa Jr., a former Vice Mayor of San Jose and School Board Member. George is “fired up and ready to go!” and the people he represents will benefit from that outlook.

District 2 is located entirely within the City of San Jose and includes downtown, Willow Glen, East Side, and South San Jose.

Dave Cortese is also a former Vice Mayor of San Jose and School Board Member. Dave has dedicated himself to public service, and I look forward to working with him.

District 3 includes Milpitas, North San Jose, the Evergreen and Alum Rock foothills, and part of Sunnyvale.

We have a fine team of executives and agency directors managing the County everyday and I thank each of them for their diligence – in good times and in bad. These leaders, and all of us, face some daunting challenges.

We’ve been told the recession began December 2007. I’d say we are in the worst times since the depression.

As you all know, we are impacted greatly by funding decisions made in Sacramento. This really started in 1978 when we lost our ability to tax locally, and began sending the taxes we did collect to Sacramento for reapportionment. This gave them most of the control over the taxation revenues. Right now, State payments to us are being withheld – we have to find the solutions.

Overall economic trends impact our property tax revenue, interest earnings, vehicle license fees, and sales tax revenue. Home foreclosures mean fewer property taxes, reduction in construction mean fewer fees and permits, as well as less money being spent in the community, reduction in sales in the community mean less sales tax.

These factors, along with the inherent rise in the cost of doing business, mean we have a hole in our budget – right now - that we just addressed this morning. Going forward into Fiscal Year 2010 we are facing a $230 million dollar shortfall that we have to correct by June 30th.

We take our responsibility to have a balanced budget in place seriously. It is now 97 days since the Governor called for a ‘special session’ of the legislature to pass a State budget. Plans to withhold funding for social services are a slap in the face to the most needy of our residents.

I’ll share with you a brief review of our resources and expenditures.

Our funds are divided by how we can use them. They are either general fund – or non-general fund. The non-general fund is money restricted to specific uses. An example is the Parks Fund, which many of you voted to support. Another example is the Roads and Airports Agency. The general fund money is where the Board of Supervisors can make expenditure decisions.

Based on fiscal year 2009 figures, our General Fund is about $2.2 billion and our non-general fund is about $1.7 billion, for a total planned budget of $3.9 million in FY09.

Where does our general fund money come from? Based on FY09 final budget numbers, 53% comes from a combination of the Federal, State, and other government agencies. Revenue from both property and non-property taxes such as sales and use tax is 33% and fees, fines, permits, and use of property, etc. is 9%.

State revenues have fallen 10% in the past 6 years. Property taxes had risen, sales tax as well, and now both are falling like a rock.

How we spend our general fund dollars is represented by five structural areas; health, running our government, environment and land use, public safety, and social services. Our largest expenditures of general funds are in the government operations, public safety, and social services areas.

It will take time to recover – and the impact may grow before that occurs.

I can understand why some wonder if we can keep the lights on, but we will keep the lights on and more. What we do at the County is too important, and keeps the social and civic framework of our community together.

Today, my message is two words. The first is by now familiar, “HOPE” The second, is “ACTION.” By turning hope into action we can maximize our outcomes and minimize the damage. Hope without action can sometimes feel as if you’re spinning your wheels, seeping further into the mire.

Many people ask, “What does the County do?” We do what I call the three publics; public safety, public health, and public assistance. We are a safety net for those in need.

Let’s begin with HOPE. We are the “H” in hope, we HELP people.

The first way we help is by documenting your life. Last year there were 31,000 birth certificates, 10,000 marriage licenses, and innumerable death certificates issued.

As well as documenting these rites of passage, we provide:

  • Comprehensive healthcare that last year provided an astounding 781,000 outpatient visits, 30,000 hospital admissions, and care to many more thousands.
  • A Sheriff’s Office who, in addition to maintaining community service programs, issued tickets and responded to calls more than 340,000 times in 2008.
  • Our jail staff manages upward of 4,500 inmates a day in various levels of security.
  • Our Probation staff currently manages 30,000 adults and 2,500 young people.
  • The District Attorney prosecutes when it is called for, and the Public Defender provides needed defense.
  • Dedicated emergency personnel and fire fighter staff responded to more than 18,000 incidents in 2008.
  • We have a world-class parks system nearing 50,000 acres.
  • The County’s award-winning library system serves nine cities. In 2008, there were over 3 million visits to the library and 3 million website hits.
  • Despite the recent decline in job openings, we continue to lead all other Bay Area counties in helping welfare recipients back to work through the CalWORKS program.

Our County reaches from Gilroy to Palo Alto and from the Santa Cruz Mountains overlooking the Pacific to the western edge of the Central Valley. According to Google maps, it’s a 1-hour drive from our northern border to the southern border, and a 2-hour drive from east to west.

In this area, with its almost 2 million people, we help the community in so many ways. Thank you all for your efforts in that regard.

As I described earlier, our fiscal reality may not permit us to lead by spending, but the times do summon us to lead with accountability and collaboration.

What can we do this Month of February, this Spring of 2009, this year of the Ox? The Ox is meant to bring prosperity through fortitude and hard work.

Lets move forward with HOPE by adding the “O” and “P.” We need to Optimize our resources and Produce results.

I know this spells HOP at this point, and we’re going to hop to it.

Most of you have heard me speak about health or know my priorities focus on health. It is part of who I am, a real passion, both as a former nurse and in my daily life. So, it should be no surprise to you that I have thought about this year based on the concept of fitness.

I’m going to talk about three areas of fitness; financial, physical, and environmental.

I’ll start with “Financial Fitness.”

The economic climate forces us to resize, refocus and rethink our functions and services.

In every crisis lies opportunity. Let me tell you how we have already had results from an opportunity we created in the healthcare agency.

After several years of studying the issues through the Valley Medical Center Financial Planning Task Force, the Board approved a massive organizational effort that is still ongoing, and has resulted in increased efficiency, better health care delivery, and substantial savings. This is of particular importance since healthcare is about 1/3 of our expenses.

We have the same opportunity to refocus in other County agencies and departments.

We can also refocus on those that we partner with on a daily basis…our community based organizations, the non-profits who provide a variety of services. We have a good partnership, and we can alter that in ways that may cast a wider net of services. Yet, we, as a county, must hold accountable any group that receives public money, and report outcomes and measurable results.

As we refocus, we must also rethink. We will have to evaluate our role in service programs; are we going to be the provider, the supporter, the collaborator, or do we stop providing certain services?

We will need to make tough choices.

We will need look to our unions for collaboration, as we have in the past.

We have already imposed a hiring freeze, and our next steps will be to collect the balance of unspent money from reserves and special projects and return it to the general fund. We’ll also consider suspending capital and technology projects.

Some in the community have asked why we don’t just cut a certain percent of our budget across the board – just select the number and make it happen. Having come from the private sector and actually finding many business practices there to be role models for government, this is not an area I think we can duplicate so easily.

As noted earlier, our sources of funding often come in the form of grants or government pass-thru. Sometimes our reimbursement depends on first expending the money and then getting reimbursed. If we cut the staff producing revenue through reimbursements that, in turn, benefit services, we could end up losing money and services.

Some good news on the financial front is that this past November, nearly 80% of voters in our community passed a bond to rebuild the Valley Medical Center. There are no general fund monies associated with this construction. This community support means our first economic stimulus project of 2009 is on the way – a $4 billion construction project.

Another asset is our Congressional delegation. They have been truly representative of this county’s needs in the past, and I am confident they will continue to deliver. Just a few weeks ago we issued our $174 million in requests from the Federal stimulus package, and just two days ago I received a request from the White House asking for additional data because they are focused on local government - and providing the relief counties need.

We’ve talked about government, how about you and your family and your financial future? We want to do what we can to help you.

Already, the County Credit Union is leading the way with courses such as Financial Education 101, Solving the Mysteries of a Credit Report, and Building a Better Budget. These courses are open to County, City and VTA employees and we will work with them and others to bring these topics into other venues.

Look for more information on free seminars and financial fitness support on our County website very soon.

Let’s move on to, “Physical Fitness.”

The Board of Supervisors and administration of this County has continuously demonstrated its commitment to support programs and services that benefit the community’s wellbeing.

This is clearly evident in our robust health care system, as well as efforts to raise public awareness on taking action to stay healthy.

Last year, I received support to promote and pass a County Ordinance to require calorie counts and nutrition information be posted by restaurants at the point of sale. This action created momentum and resulted in the passage of state-wide legislation that will become effective in 2010.

This year, I want to share with you some information about a frequently overlooked area of health, the dental area. Santa Clara County provides dental services at some of our health centers, and even sends a dental van to visit various areas of the County where adults and children need care.

Adding to our dental care, we are extremely pleased to announce a recent pledge of $1.2 million dollars from El Camino Hospital to fund our primary care and dental services at the newly opened Valley Health Center - Sunnyvale. We built the new center with dental capacity but dollars ran short for operations. With this community support, we are able to move forward.

We have an opportunity to take an additional action for dental health. 

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, one of the top 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century is fluoridation of public drinking water.
  • The Santa Clara County Public Health Department reports more than 450,000 children below age 18 living in our county could benefit from fluoride.
  • Yet, according to the American Dental Association, San Jose is the largest city in the U.S. without the benefit of fluoride in the water.

Today, I am asking The Health Trust, the Public Health Department, and the Health Advisory Commission to work together with the retail water systems to improve the oral health of the county by fluoridating the entire county within five years.

Another way we can help with physical fitness is actually combined with the financial, and that is to offer residents a prescription drug discount card.

Through a national program, we can offer a special Prescription Drug Discount Card to all residents of the county. This program can save more than 20% off the full retail cost of prescription medication.

Here are the key factors that make it a great program;

  • It is easy to participate. There are no enrollment fees, no forms to fill out, no age or income requirements, and no medical condition restrictions.
  • There are no costs. There is no cost to the county, county taxpayers, or consumers to participate
  • Everyone is eligible. The discount cards are provided free to residents living in participating counties across the country. A national network of more than 60,000 retail pharmacies honor the card.
  • Consumers always receive the lowest retail price.

I’ll be asking my colleagues for their support to launch this program in Santa Clara County at a future Board meeting.

The last area of fitness I’ll speak about today is “Environmental Fitness.”

Very soon, the Board will be considering a County Climate Action Plan that will contain major steps to reduce our own environmental impact and save dollars. I’ll mention just three of the many areas included in the Plan.

We’ll be undertaking the ‘retro-commissioning’ of our County buildings to determine how to repair or retune their systems to save energy and money. Our first use of this process will be right here at Hedding and is planned to save $100,000 a year in energy costs.

Next, we’re working on ‘Renewal Energy Power Purchase Agreements,’ a new way to purchase clean renewable energy for low upfront costs. In fact, the Association of Bay Area Governments is considering adopting our County’s methodology.

Third, we will use our $1 billion in purchasing power to encourage more environmentally friendly products.

Finally, to be environmentally fit we need to evaluate and update our County General Plan. The way our communities are planned has great impact on transportation choices, traffic, our health, the environment, and sustainability. The Planning Department will move forward with a Task Force on the General Plan later this year, and I look forward to this important process.

Each of us is aware and focused on the challenges we face today, however, we also need to look a bit further down the road.

It’s time to add the E in HOPE – we must envision the future.

Vision 2015 will be a 5-year plan designed around a framework such as environment, economy, and community. How will we move forward and hold ourselves accountable? What are the most important goals we should be acting on? These are questions we need to ask ourselves, and the community.

With the help of my four colleagues, we can identify specific areas within the framework and define goals to be measured and reviewed.

My hope is that we continue to help people, hold ourselves accountable by optimizing our outcomes and producing results, and envision the future of our community by developing Vision 2015.

I’m going to turn those hopes into action.

Let me reassure you that the County of Santa Clara has a good track record. We’ve weathered financial storms over the past many years, we continue in service to the public and we are good stewards of your resources.

With the special talents and passions of my colleagues all County employees, and with the engagement of our community, we will succeed this year, next year, and in the years to come.

Before I mention one action I’ll invite you to take, please join me in saluting our county with a round of applause.

When you sat down this afternoon, most of you received a post card. The purpose of the card is to help you take an action step before you leave this afternoon.

Simply put your message of action on the post card in front of you, tell us who to send it to, and we will fill in the rest of the address and mail it for you.

My post card reads, “Dear Governor, Reinstate the Vehicle License Fee.”

Thank you for pulling together, thank you for being here.