Vito Chiesa wants the residents of Stanislaus County to know that through transformation, the impossible can become possible. The Board of Supervisors chairman spoke of growing together as a community in his "State of the County" speech Tuesday morning, Feb. 7, comparing the county's resurgence in the face of past adversity to life bouncing back in the spring - fitting as rain outside the building refreshed the drought-plagued community.
The address marked the beginning of Chiesa's second turn as the county's highest elected official, and he reminisced on his first State of the County address in 2013 when the county had just begun to recover from the so-called Great Recession. Though a seemingly dark way to begin the speech, his words soon turned to how Stanislaus County has recovered in the years since, citing how the county's focus on debt repayment in the years after the recession led to the county now being on track to pay off its General Fund debt by the end of the fiscal year.
"This is a tremendous accomplishment and I don't know if there is another county across the state which could say that," said Chiesa.
After eliminating 1,000 positions during the recession, Chiesa noted that employee position numbers are back to where they were in 2000. He credited the administrative staff, management teams and employees of Stanislaus County for impeccable leadership that led the area out of its dark times, from Child Support Services to the Sheriff's Department, and emphasized the importance of connecting with the younger generation who will one day take over the county's workforce.
"There are major differences in how younger generations view an employer relationship and how they seek out employment," said Chiesa. "If we are not making changes to attract and retain our best young talent, we are selling our organization short, the community short and our young people short."
The chairman also made known the significant strides the county has made in terms of water and technology. He highlighted the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Project, which came to fruition as a partnership between Modesto, Ceres, Turlock and Stanislaus County, and noted that the county's community members can now perform a myriad of county-related activities online.
In addition to the significant accomplishments the county has made following the Great Recession, Chiesa also touched on what lies ahead for Stanislaus County, such as the "milestone moment" of the passage of local transportation tax Measure L, which will fund countless infrastructure improvements throughout the county this year.
"This measure illustrates the power that occurs when people band together," said Chiesa. "This effort saw every single elected official in the county, our state officials, our congressman, the taxpayers and unions come together in agreement. It was a momentous victory for the community."
Working together is key to making the nearly impossible occur, said Chiesa, and he gave several examples of how collaboration has positively affected the area, such as the Gallo Performing Arts Center, the Regional Water Safety Training Center and the Regional Animal Services Center.
"Over the years, the county has been willing to do the difficult work of engaging tough projects that would be easy to pass over," he said.
Moving forward, he hopes the county continues to lead on those difficult projects.
"These types of projects take incredible time, energy, resources and partners to get accomplished; but, when they are accomplished, the impact to the community is overwhelming," said Chiesa. "We are unique because these are massive undertakings and most other communities would be thrilled to accomplish just one of these projects in a lifetime."
Communities transformed in the shadow of the Great Recession, forming neighborhood watch groups, caring for otherwise neglected local parks and forming countless volunteer programs - all signs that when a community comes together in the most difficult times, amazing changes can occur, he said. Chiesa hopes that the county will continue its transformational progress.
"We need to continue to bring resources together," he said. "We need to focus on issues together. We need to go beyond our walls and borders. We need to believe that the impossible can become possible."