Dozens of Kern County employees and residents living in rural communities advocated for more money to be allocated to their departments and communities during the second meeting to discuss the recommended county budget.
Residents advocating for and from the unincorporated parts of Kern asked the Board of Supervisors to invest in communities that lack basic infrastructure — such as streets, sidewalks, parks, flooding systems and soccer programs — as a way to improve the health of the residents.
“What happens in these communities is a reflection of the budget priorities and the quality of life in Kern County as a whole,” said Asha Chandy, a member of Comunidades Unidas, a local organization that advocates for the well being of residents in Kern.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors held a meeting Monday to receive comments from the residents about the 2019-20 recommended budget, which was first proposed in June.
The overall budget is comprised of $2.9 billion. The preliminary budget allocates funds to the homeless populations, to hire new county employees, infrastructure improvement projects, mental health services, library services, spay and neuter programs and more.
The budget prioritizes public safety by allocating $640 million to public safety departments, which is a 3.7 percent increase from last year’s budget, said Ryan Alsop, the county administrative officer.
The funds allocated to the Kern County Sheriffs Office is to help with recruitment and retention challenges, raining academies and salaries.
Karen Briefer-Gose, a public safety employee with KCSO, reiterated the necessity of salary adjustments for public safety employees.
“We are being paid 2007 wages in 2019.” she said. “Our wages have been at a standstill.”
However, many community members said they want to see the money spent elsewhere.
Members from the CU team spoke of how a well-invested community contributes to the health of its residents.
“We believe health doesn’t happen in a doctor’s office,” Chandy said.
Gustavo Aguirre Jr., a member of the CU team and a staffer with CCEJN, told the board data shows people’s zip codes determine their longevity of their lives.
“Your life span is shorter in disadvantaged communities,” he said.
Zip codes in rural communities reduce life span because of lack of infrastructure, parks and more, he said, while advocating for more funds to be allocated to rural community infrastructure projects.
Adeyinka Glover, an attorney with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability and CU team member, asked the board to fund a proper flooding system in Lamont and it’s surrounding areas.
“In Rexland Acres, when it rains, certain streets and businesses are impacted by flooding,” she said. “We ask you to asses this issue and develop a plan.”
Kern County employees, many from the Department of Human Services, also spoke to the board, asking for fair wages and continual upkeep for their facilities.
Social workers from DHS asked the supervisors for funds that will provide better wages and assistance in helping rid their facility of their bed bug infestation, which some say have been ongoing since 2017.
Rosario Romero, a human services supervisor for the Kinship office on Wilson Road, spoke about how she accidentally brought home the bed bugs.
“There’s currently a troublesome and ongoing problem at DHS concerning an infestation of bed bugs that continues to negatively affect the health and morale of DHS employees,” Carmen Morales-Board, a nurse practitioner, said.
Morales-Board attributed the ongoing bedbug issue to insufficient resources and the lack of staff education on the bed bug problem.
“When workers feel valued, they remain on the job,” said Morales-Board. “High turnover rates, job stress, and substandard working conditions hurt everyone.”
Alsop also spoke of the four year deficit, which has decreased over the years. In 2016-17, the county had a deficit of $44 million. He estimates the deficit will be just under $7 million in the 2019-20 year.
“The reason for this has been a series of reductions the departments have taken — a total of $34 million over this period,” Alsop said.
The preliminary budget does not rely on an reserve funds, according to Alsop.
The board will have a final hearing on the budget at 9 a.. on Aug. 27.
South Kern Sol is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.