The state of Stanislaus County is strong, and it has only improved in recent years thanks to diligent planning and financial discipline, according to Terry Withrow, chairman of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors. His remarks came Tuesday morning, March 5 during his “State of the County” address, the second one he has given as chairman in the last four years.
Withrow called for prevention in areas like homelessness and public safety in order to keep Stanislaus County on its pathway of success.
“Not only have we been able to weather the Great Recession and the sluggish economic recovery that followed, we have experienced as a nation, the longest post-recession economic recovery of this generation,” said Withrow. “As a county we are on solid economic footing.”
Since Withrow’s last State of the County address, discretionary revenue has grown by $41 million, from $183 million in Fiscal Year 2014-15 to $224 million in Fiscal Year 2017-18, and the General Fund balance has increased $66 million, or 47.8 percent.
Although the numbers are encouraging, Withrow warned that good times often don’t last, and emphasized the importance of creating prudent reserves for future rainy days.
Fiscally conservative methods weren’t the entirety of Withrow’s speech; he spoke of recent county successes, like restoring positions within public safety, the implementation of a pilot program for Laura’s Law and announced that, for the first time in decades, supervisors made the decision this year to change its list of priorities to align them with the countywide Focus on Prevention movement, which has seen countless successes and challenges in its first few years.
“Our hope was that Focus on Prevention would extend beyond a simple initiative and lead to a shared community vision, laying the foundation for ongoing transformation and culture change to inspire deeper connections and tangible improvements in the lives of Stanislaus County residents,” Withrow said.
He said county leaders hope to improve the quality of life for Stanislaus residents by reducing homelessness, strengthening families, investing in and supporting youth and finally reducing recidivism and re-entry back into the criminal justice system.
To address the county’s homeless population, the county’s Outreach & Engagement team was formed in 2016 to go out daily and connect homeless with services. Withrow praised the C.A.R.E. team, which contacts the smaller homeless population that is in need of immediate help due to high-risk behaviors.
“Over a 90-day period last year, our work group met weekly to map assets, unpack problematic processes and identify service gaps while building a new approach that could increase accountability and alignment, developing a system and service model that has never been utilized in our community,” Withrow said.
The team of a dozen nurses, social workers, the DA’s office, probation and the public defender’s office have since identified about 150 people who were on everyone’s list of most frequent users of the system, helping them daily to get off the street.
Withrow also touched on water, and the “Worth Your Fight” campaign that is currently in the throes of a water war with the state.
“Although we are no longer technically experiencing a drought, we find ourselves in a position to be fighting for our water like never before,” he said. “Our fight has now gone to the courts.”
Withrow remains optimistic that under the direction taken by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a negotiated settlement agreement can be reached with the State Water Resources Control Board. He also looked ahead to drinking water in the county, and noted the significant progress that has been made on the Regional Surface Water Supply Project which will eventually supply water to Ceres and Turlock.
All that Withrow discussed, he said, comes on the heels of change — something that as happened a lot in Stanislaus County recently, and will continue to occur as the years pass by.
“As a county governing body, I believe our organization operates as a group of individuals who have built those relationships amongst each other and established that trust. As a result of that, I have had so much change to talk about here today,” Withrow said. “We are at a critical time in our county’s history. In order for our region as a whole to succeed and move forward with positive change, we must build these relationships to establish that trust.”