Kern County Administrative office leaders launched a talk-show style informational show Tuesday as a way to inform the media — and the public — about the basics of the county’s financial situation.
And you will eventually be able to watch the hour-long panel discussion online.
New Director of Countywide Communications Megan Person hosted the show with guests Devin Brown, Nancy Lawson and Geoffrey Hill.
Topics ranged from budget status and pension costs to the county’s Lean Six Sigma innovation efforts and the challenges to handling a $10 million deficit in the county fire fund.
Lawson, the Assistant County Administrative Officer for Budget and Finance, said the county has been focused over the last five years on funding ongoing operational costs with ongoing money.
The county still uses one-time money to fund operations as it struggles to dig out of a more than $40 million deficit created several years ago when the property tax value of oil and gas properties plummeted.
But, Lawson said, the county is working to end that practice to create long term fiscal responsibility in the future.
The county’s general fund, its main operational pool of money, has shrunk its deficit to $12 million over the past two years. For the most part the county has avoided major service reductions, Lawson said.
“The intent of the mitigation plan was to give leaders time to come up with a way to cut costs without major impacts to services,” she said.
Brown, the Chief Human Resources Officer for Kern County, said the county has adopted a culture of innovation and begun training managers and line employees in Lean Six Sigma.
His department has shed four positions through attrition and not seen an impact on the service level the public experiences.
“It’s been challenging,” he said. “We’ve been able to make do. We’re working smarter, not harder.”
Hill, who leads the County Administrative Offices’ General Services function, talked about how the county is moving to a lease program for the fleet of around 800 vehicles his office administered.
The effort is starting with a segment of the full fleet on a five-year-pilot program that should save hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If the pilot program is successful and is implemented across the full fleet, Hills said, the county could save $1.5 million a year.
Brown and Lawson talked about one of the biggest challenges facing the county — the Kern County Fire Department’s growing deficit.
Lawson said the problem is the continuing use of one-time money by the department to fund its operations — 87 percent of which are tied to salaries.
But Brown explained that any changes will be need to negotiated with the Kern County Fire Fighters union.
“It’s a challenge for the fire chief and the (Kern County) Board of Supervisors,” he said.
The county hopes to convince the union to agree to be paid overtime only for the hours firefighters actually spend on the job.
Currently, time off, like vacation and sick time, is still counted toward firefighter overtime totals as if the employee was on the job.
Reaching an agreement is “going to require some sacrifice on both parts,” Brown said.
Other topics touched on by the panel were improvements to county parks and the ongoing challenge of dramatic increases in pension and health benefit costs.
The amount of money the county has put into those cost increases over the past nine years would have paid for all employees to have a 17 percent raise, Brown said.
The entire program is available on Kern County’s YouTube channel.