Times are tough and aren't likely to get better in the next year or two. That's why working together and planning are more important than ever, Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Chairman Tom Mayfield said during his State of the County address Tuesday.
Speaking in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place in Modesto, Mayfield was blunt about the challenges, but noted that the county has survived tough times in the past.
Many problems are beyond local control, he noted: the soaring home foreclosure rate, rising unemployment, shrinking sales and property taxes. By law, the county can't deficit spend its way through a downturn like the federal government does, Mayfield said.
Despite the economic problems, Mayfield spelled out an ambitious agenda for the coming year, including the start of construction on an animal shelter and development of a master plan for a public safety center with an expanded jail.
The county hopes to resurface 125 of its 1,600 miles of roads this year and to establish a program to resurface as many as 160 miles each year, Mayfield said.
"It's an ambitious program, but I think we can do it," he said.
Another sales tax vote for roads will be needed, Mayfield said, but the county will have to convince skeptical voters that the money will be spent where it should. Mayfield advocated an oversight committee to review and approve expenditures, made up of sales tax opponents and critics, as well as supporters.
Establishing a Family Justice Center for victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse and sexual assault is another goal, Mayfield said.
"It's a simple idea," he said. "Gather the professionals from different departments, agencies and private organizations and have them at one place, so victims can get help and counseling quickly and efficiently."
The structure and financing of the center will be identified this year, Mayfield said.
The Sheriff's Department is working to decentralize into four area commands, starting in Riverbank. Each should be operational within three years, Mayfield said. The regional centers should make deputies more efficient, allowing them more patrol time, he said.
The county needs more industrial land to meet job needs for the growing population, Mayfield said. The industrial areas in all the county's cities and towns won't be enough to meet the needs of a population expected to reach 1 million by 2050, Mayfield said.
The controversial PCCP West Park LLC development proposal for the Crows Landing area should be completed this spring, and voted on by the Board of Supervisors, Mayfield noted.
Stanislaus County continues to come up short on property tax returns from the state, Mayfield said, something the county will continue to fight in Sacramento. The county gets 10.5 cents back for every property tax dollar, while the average county gets 22 cents, he said. The formula for the property tax returns was determined by the state 30 years ago in the wake of Proposition 13. Counties that were prudent with spending and had lower property tax rates were penalized, Mayfield said.
Bringing the county up to average would put $49 million more in the county's general fund, Mayfield said. Legislation to fix the problem has been vetoed by Republican and Democratic governors, he said.
Getting the county's ambitious agenda done despite limited resources will require cooperation, Mayfield said.
"We need to work together," he said. "We need to tell each other the truth about our economy. We need to know that political rhetoric isn't an answer to any problem. We need to be partners with the cities and districts in this county. We need to replace bickering with agreements."
He urged regional cooperation in the San Joaquin Valley. Working proactively on water and air quality issues will gain the valley a more palatable plan than allowing courts and other levels of government to determine the solutions, Mayfield said.
The housing and economic slowdown is an opportunity to plan for the infrastructure the county will need when the econ-omy turns around, he said.
"No one likes economic down times," he said. "But we can use this period to have sober discussions and maybe even make decisions that will make for a much better community when the economy turns the corner."
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2349.