Local News

Tuesday, Feb 25 2014 02:06 PM

Supervisors suggest retreat to plan for future

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern Medical Center on Mt. Vernon Avenue.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    The male minimum facility at the Kern County Sheriff's Lerdo facility is an aging structure not designed to house the number of inmates that are currently housed. This is a file photo.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    The hope of increased air traffic in and out of Meadows Field through the William M. Thomas Terminal has not materialized.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County supervisors voted Tuesday to step back and -- at a "retreat" -- look to the future, set some goals and try to get a handle on massive challenges facing the county in the next few years.

Millions of dollars are draining out of Kern Medical Center monthly.

Staffing a new jail could increase annual county costs by an estimated $27.1 million a year.

Meadows Field's main runway needs a $10 million rebuild.

And, if historical trends continue, Kern County's annual contribution to employee pensions could climb from $213 million this coming fiscal year to between $300 and $400 million a year in the next 10 years.

Some of those challenges can be controlled. Others have to be lived through.

Supervisors David Couch and Mick Gleason called Tuesday for the county to take a global view of the entire situation and try to get a handle on where the next few years could take them. And the full board backed them up.

County Administrative Officer John Nilon said it isn't yet certain what form of meeting the retreat would involve.

But his office will try to schedule the meeting as soon as possible and it could involve simply clearing the agenda for a regular Tuesday meeting of the board.

It was a fitting day for county introspection Tuesday. Supervisors also:

* Heard a sobering pair of reports about the state of the Kern County Employees' Retirement Association -- which handles pension investments for the employees of the county, Kern County courts and various water and public services districts.

Paul Angelo of The Segal Group said the pension system had a pretty good year.

But higher salaries and the lingering damage done by catastrophic market losses in 2008 and 2009 have combined to drive up the annual contribution to pensions the county is required to make up from $210 million to $213 million.

Things aren't likely to get better, said Scott Whalen of Wurts & Associates.

He noted that, historically, there is no 10-year period in which stocks don't take a significant downturn.

If Kern County suffers such a blow, he said, the county's contribution rates could rise to between $300 million and $400 million 10 years from now.

* Wrote off a $4.2 million debt the Kern County Airports Department owed the county's main capital improvement fund.

Airports Director Richard Strickland said $12.2 million was borrowed to fund the renovation and staffing of an international air terminal at Meadows Field. Revenue from the terminal and Mexicana Airlines' fights to Mexico was supposed to pay off the debt.

"When the flights stopped operating, after the recession hit and the price of fuel rose, the revenue generation stopped," Strickland said.

The $4.2 million is the amount of the debt that Kern County simply can't pay.

Supervisor Mike Maggard said this is exactly the kind of issue a Board of Supervisors retreat could address.

The county can, he said, "try to set a course that works and makes the airport all it can be."

* Voted to modify an existing ordinance that restricts vehicle owners from parking their automobiles in one place for more than 72 hours.

Owners now need to move the vehicle one mile to avoid violation of the law, which applies to unincorporated areas of the county.

* Approved the creation of five subcommittees of the board that will review high-profile issues referred to them by the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

* Voted to appoint Greg Fenton as the interim director of Engineering, Surveying and Permit Services. Current Director Chuck Lackey is retiring.

Fenton has worked for Kern County since 1987 and is an expert in handling permit review of major commercial and industrial projects, according to a county press release.

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