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County gets good news about financial status

Madera County is financially fit, the Board of Supervisors heard at its meeting on Tuesday. That is a long hop from a few years ago when the county was verging on bankruptcy because of the economic collapse that had hit the valley.


“I came on the board in ‘07 in January, and we were pretty good,” said Supervisor Tom Wheeler, who is this year’s board chair.


“But in ‘08, that was when the cow hit the handcart, and we were $12 million to $13 million in the red.”


Wheeler said county Chief Administrative Officer Eric Fleming and his staff went to the supervisors with a plan to get the county out of debt.


“When I came on, we had about 1,700 employees, and we went down to about 800,” Wheeler said. “Now we’re at a level that really fits our county.”


Supervisor David Rogers said the county’s budget efforts had been recognized by Standard & Poor’s, the credit-rating service.


“That success didn’t just happen,” he said. “It was planned for.”


“We fell off the fiscal cliff in 2010,” said Fleming. But that changed, he said, when adjustments were made in staffing and other spending.


The biggest problem the county seems to be facing is projected growth in pensions and medical care, which the county must fund.


Supervisor Robert Poythress recommended the board read an article by California government columnist Dan Walters, who recently wrote that 480 California cities face bankruptcy.


That, Poythress said, could cause widespread financial upheaval and tax increases to cover the costs of those benefit programs.


For now, though, Madera County is basking in a great credit rating with sufficient cash on hand to operate the county according to its budget.


In other business:


• Supervisors heard from County Assessor Gary Svanda, who said an uptick in residential construction is adding to the county’s tax base. He said many of the new homes being built in the south end of the county are high-end residences that should generate a good tax flow for the county in the future. He said residential taxes account for some 50 percent of county property tax income, while agriculture accounts for 30 percent and commercial property for 20 percent.


• Supervisor Max Rodriguez said that while the county was responsible for cleanup of the Fresno River, he hoped Madera Irrigation District and the City of Madera could pitch in and help. He said keeping the river clean is a big job for just one agency.