Once again, the County of Kern has claimed its financial situation is simply too dire to allow for "pensionable" increase to rank-and-file employees who have already gone 10 years without a salary increase or cost-of-living increase. Like everyone else in Kern, we employees have seen the cost of living rise. But our salaries have remained stagnant. We fall farther behind in each successive year that we go without any form of increase.
Every time our contract comes up for negotiation, there's a different financial crisis used as the reason the county cannot afford to give us a raise. One year, it was "bad information" from an actuarial firm hired to project pension costs.
Another year, it was the cost of bailing out Kern Medical which is now, conveniently, spun off into another entity and won't be repaying the General Fund.
This time, it was the price of oil and the resulting loss property tax revenue on the oil industry.
So maybe it seems odd that I would choose now to ask "Where's the money?" But seriously, where is the money? Not the money we failed to recoup from the actuarial firm, not the KMC money, and not the oil-related revenue.
I'm talking about all the revenue we were promised when Lorelei Oviatt was given a significant raise and tasked with streamlining the permitting process so that we could take advantage of our swaths of desert and abundant sunshine and attract the solar and wind energy companies.
We were told that not only would there be revenue from permitting, but that every watt of energy generated would be taxed, a portion going back to the county's coffers.
Well, Ms. Oviatt did her job — and, believe me, I am not casting aspersions on her or suggesting that she does not earn her keep. She does great work, and it's a shame the Board of Supervisors chose to ignore her recent recommendations regarding the marijuana industry, but I digress.
The point is, solar and wind has indeed grown in Kern County. Not only are wind farms finally connected to transmission lines, but apparently, we have the biggest wind farm in the United States right here in Kern County. Solar installations have gone up everywhere — from large "farms" in the desert areas to local rooftops and as covers over large parking lots, providing both energy and shade.
Where's all the revenue this was supposed to bring in? Literally, where is it? Did the Board of Supervisors spend any one-time fees? If so, on what? Are there ongoing renewal fees? Are we properly taxing the value of land with solar arrays or windmills on them since they are now power producers? And what about those extra fees we were supposed to collect on all this energy as it is drawn down by users?
So, please, I invite the CAO and the Board of Supervisors to tell all of us, not just county employees, but rest of the residents and taxpayers: Where's the money?
Karen Briefer-Gose is a county employee, union member and resident of Bakersfield. The opinions expressed are her own.