A July 27 presentation about the state of Ventura County began heavy in pie charts and ended on a note of optimism about the area’s economic future.
County Executive Officer Johnny Johnston gave a thorough breakdown of the general fund revenue (projected to be $877,004,487 total for the 2007-08 fiscal year), which ranked far below the majority of California’s 58 counties.
The Board of Supervisors controls less than $80 million of an approved $1.6 million budget, he said.
Although Johnston and County Supervisor Kathy Long both expressed general optimism and reassured the audience that the health of the county is good, two issues in particular were of financial concern.
Foremost was the county’s need to address its growing jail population. Johnston said the cost of an expanded system could be between $80-200 million (If properly financed by the state of California, he said, the impact on the county could be reduced to $43 million per year).
Retrofitting of county hospitals required since the Solimar earthquake of 1971 also raises questions. Although the deadline for retrofits has been continually pushed back (and now stands at 2019), the $200 million price tag for hospital compliance further clouds the county’s financial outlook.
Long opened her own presentation with a list of the county’s financial accomplishments. Ventura County was able to reinstate additional funds to add two officers to the sheriff department’s West County gang unit, she said. The additions made the unit six deputies strong. Additionally, an agricultural and gang enforcement officer had been added to patrol unincorporated areas.
Two social workers were hired with a specialization in providing resources for newly emancipated youths, and a methamphetamine addiction treatment specialist was hired by the county. On the healthcare front, Long said, “If you have to be sick, there is no better place than Ventura County.”
With the reopening of the Santa Paula Hospital, the county increased its treatment capacity by 49 beds.
A $10 million grant from the Health Care Initiative Grant Award given earlier this year to only 10 counties in the state ensures that more uninsured residents will have access to what Long termed the “clinic” system. The grant is consistent for three years, for a total of $30 million. This addresses the needs of uninsured citizens who are not eligible for Medi-Cal or Healthy Families programs.
“Preventative care keeps [people] from going to emergency room as primary health care,” Long said. “[The county] becomes the provider of health care.”
Long also detailed the county’s concern with a new national focus: the potential spread of the pandemic flu and the resulting “continuity of businesses.”
“In disaster preparedness, the public health system is on the front line,” Long said. “It is projected that if [the pandemic flu] comes to the county, it would immediately impact up to 40 percent of the workforce.”
Another focus for the county was a contingency plan in the event that populations from Los Angeles County enter Ventura in search of aid and resources unavailable in their more congested region.
Long said one measure the county is taking is to collaborate with private leaders such as Chambers of Commerce and economic development programs.
Quoting Mark Schniepp, director and chief economist of the California Economic Forecast Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Long said unemployment in the county is at a record low of 4.7 percent, and county employers increased area jobs by 1.7 percent, in 2007.
“Housing still remains a challenge,” said Long. “The median price for a detached home is $686,253,” which she added was a 27 percent increase from last year.
Long attributed this in part to an area mentality toward development: “In this county, we’ve agreed we love open spaces and agriculture.”
But she quickly pointed out that some areas — specifically the Channel Islands Harbor — provide fertile grounds for revitalization and sensible development.
“Channel Islands Harbor is on the right path and is a strong economic engine for the county,” Long said, adding that more than $200 million had been invested by private interests, and that the county looks forward to a “Fisherman’s Wharf with updated restaurants and retail.”