If you were to use one word to describe the state of Madera and Madera County, that word would be “better.” Maybe only a little better, but better nevertheless. So were told the 200 or so in attendance at Wednesday’s State of the County luncheon at the Madera Municipal Golf Course by the three officials who spoke.
The past couple of years could not have been described using that word. The word “worse” was the adjective of those years. Business was off, tax collections were down and officials in county and city departments were having to furlough people and/or lay them off. Yet, the counties and its cities have muddled through, and are in a better position to do better for their citizens once the economic climate improves further.
Board of Supervisors Chair Max Rodriguez tolled a list of county government accomplishments, including the building of new infrastructure, such as the completion of the Road 200 project and the opening of the new $30 million addition to the county jail.
The new 311 call center was established, to give county citizens one simple phone number to dial to help them find county departments. “This has been a tremendous asset,” Rodriguez said.
He also reminded those present that a new garbage hauler and landfill operator, Red Rock, had been engaged, and that fees paid by county residents likely would be lower than they had been paying before.
But he also said many residents were still experiencing economic woes. Some 48,000 county residents, he said, received assistance from county social services.
He said he was looking forward to the start of construction of two major projects — high-speed rail and the new North Fork casino. Also, he said, a new building for the Sheriff’s department likely would be completed in 2014.
Madera Mayor Rob Poythress said the city last year had been faced with serious income problems due primarily to four causes: Drops in sales taxes, drops in property taxes, drops in user fees and drops in interest earnings on city investments. Yet, he said, most services to city residents had continued.
“This is a huge tribute to our staff,” he said. Actually, he meant remaining staff. He said 289 full-time and 105 part-time employees had been laid off.
He said the loss of redevelopment agencies — including Madera’s — had been “a huge blow to the state of California, and especially to Madera. We were the poster child for the proper use of RDA money,” he said.
He said that when a recovery occurs, “a new normal will emerge.” But that might be a while off.
“When was the last time you heard somebody from Florida or Texas say, ‘Let’s move to California?’” he asked.
He praised the city’s graffiti abatement program as a good example of how volunteers can help the city improve.
Chowchilla Mayor Dennis Haworth said his city’s circumstances also were improving, especially consider- ing that Chowchilla had at one point been on the brink of defaulting on its obligations.