There were plenty of highlights in Inyo County government during 2012, ranging from seemingly small victories to major realignments to simply continuing to deliver a high level of services and programs in the face of tight budgets.
County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio noted that, “all things considered, 2012 was a good year for the County of Inyo.” More than a dozen county department heads and elected officials echoed that sentiment at the last Board of Supervisors meeting of 2012, when they discussed what they said were the “highlights” of the year in their departments. The following is a brief summation of those comments (note: not all department heads or elected officials made an end-of-the-year presentation).
Two of the biggest changes citizens faced in 2012 came off without a hitch, said County Clerk and Recorder Kammi Foote. First was the change to a “top-two, open primary” election system in California to elect state and national representatives. The top two vote-getters in the June primary, regardless of party affiliation, moved on to the November ballot. Foote said her department undertook “a huge voter education campaign” which by most measures succeeded to help explain the new primary system to voters. Second, the City of Bishop consolidated its municipal and City Council election, which has traditionally been held in March, with the General Election in November. The consolidated election was “a huge win-win,” said Foote, since it lowered costs to hold the election and also increased turn-out. Also, this election season saw the first use of student poll workers on Election Day, an educational outreach effort Foote said she plans to continue.
County Auditor/Controller Leslie Chapman said “the daily work load can be challenging” in her department, which processes virtually all of the county’s financial transactions, from paying bills to issuing payroll checks. Despite some staffing challenges, Chapman said her office has “pulled together” and functions “like a well-oiled machine.” Whether it was implementing a new pay day schedule, anticipating future computer and software needs, or working with new state-mandated auditing requirements, “my staff did a great job,” she concluded.
HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES
Health and Human Services Director Jean Turner also praised the work of her staff. She pointed out that the department’s “unsung heroes” work in the fiscal department, which oversees a total budget
of about $17 million that
is dispersed into 13 different state budget categories, and 21 separate county HHS budgets. The
fiscal group won praise for its work from two different audit groups, she added.
The biggest change and continuing challenge for HHS and Inyo County was the decision in 2012 to have Inyo County Board of Supervisors become the state-designated Governing Board for the Eastern Sierra Agency on Aging. Having Inyo County provide policy direction, set budgets and outline priorities for the Senior Programs in Inyo and Mono counties resolved years of regional controversy and disagreements about how to split funding and provide services to the seniors in both counties, Turner noted. “It was a huge accomplishment.” Inyo County has consistently augmented state and federal funds for senior programs with General Fund dollars, to ensure the needs of local seniors are addressed. Going forward, the Board and HHS will work to assess the needs of the region’s seniors and continue to provide the programs and services that meet those needs, she concluded.
In addition to well-known programs, Turner highlighted two smaller, collaborative programs involving Public Health and First 5: working with numerous partners to provide car seats to new parents, and the regional dental outreach program, which has helped about 151 Inyo youths to receive dental care.
Local law enforcement spent much of 2012 anticipating the impacts of a change in state law (Assembly Bill 109) which will have county jails housing more inmates who previously had been sentenced to serve their time in state prisons. The county “is seeing some impacts and issues at the jail” because of the new group of inmates, said Sheriff Bill Lutze. Lutze said he expects more impacts to show up over the long term, and his staff is working to anticipate how to address those changes. On a positive note, Lutze said his department made a number of much-needed technology upgrades. Also, he has been able to “maintain staff levels” for jailers, deputies and other officers, which has enabled the Sheriff’s Department to function effectively and efficiently.
Being fully staffed “for the first time in years” has also helped the Probation and Juvenile Justice Department maintain daily operations, implement new programs and plan for the impacts of AB 109, said Chief Probation Officer Jeff Thomson. A significant amount of staff time and effort went into procedures and policies to implement AB 109, he said. The county will see more inmates doing “local prison time” in the county jail in the coming years, Thomson said. Under the terms of AB 109, the county will receive some state funds to house in the county jail some offenders who used to go to state prison. Those prisoners will be non-violent offenders, he noted, while sex offenders will remain in state prison. The department is already developing alternatives to simply having offenders do jail time. Thomson said electronic monitoring of adult and juvenile offenders has started, has been “successful,” and will continue to grow. The department has also successfully implemented a Community Work Service Program, which can become an alternative sentence for some types of local offenders. On the prevention side, the department has been able to place probation officers in some local schools as a resource for staff and students. Thomson said his “tremendous staff and managers” were responsible for the successes during “an extremely busy year.”
The Inyo County Water Department had “a challenging year,” said director Bob Harrington, primarily because the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had “taken a more aggressive stance” on a wide range of water issues in the Eastern Sierra and in relation to the Inyo/L.A. Long Term Water Agreement. He stressed the importance of “teamwork and cohesion” when it comes to the county’s, and the region’s, approach to dealing with LADWP and ongoing issues surrounding the LTWA.
Inyo/Mono Child Support Services continued its vital mission, and continued to make progress in a number of areas, despite having fewer staff, said Director Susanne Rizo. The department saw increases in 2012 of both regular child support payments, and payments of past due child support, she noted. For the year, the department helped local families collect $2.7 million in court-ordered child support payments. Organizationally, the department has streamlined its fiscal systems, and created a truly regional budget for its work in Inyo and Mono counties, she added.