State of El Dorado County: Development would bring housing, revenue
Housing development, financial stability, county workforce satisfaction and healthy communities.
El Dorado County has had its hands full tackling these topics in recent years. District 3 representative and Chair of the Board of Supervisors Wendy Thomas gave her State of the County address Oct. 18 at Cameron Park Country Club as part of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce business awards luncheon.
“We are here to protect what we love about this county while also ensuring it is sustainable for our kids, grandkids and future generations,” Thomas said.
Thomas talked about the county’s budget, leadership, workforce and retention, housing and homelessness and recent countywide emergencies, kicking off her speech by reporting that Transient Occupancy Tax revenues are down 7%, along with sales tax, which is down a quarter-percent.
Thomas shared that the county is anticipating a continued slowing of the economy and the county’s conservative fiscal approach has helped absorb rising costs and declining revenue without cutting services.
“It’s also important to note that while we have roughly a billion dollar budget, 40% of our revenue comes from government services or agencies that are for specific purposes, which means we do not have discretion for 40% of our revenue, and that is another really important point to understand,” Thomas said.
Thomas noted a 6% bump in property taxes have helped ease the downturn, and applauded county staff for staying within the budget and finding ways to increase revenue from outside sources.
“While our financial outlook is not entirely rosy, thanks to our conservative process, financial positions, careful management and careful departmental efficiencies and collaboration between county departments, we will be able to meet the needs of our county through a balanced budget,” Thomas added.
The supervisor commented on one strategy to bring the county’s revenue up — development. More specifically, she noted the county’s lack of affordable housing.
“We are all adamant that we don’t want to become anywhere U.S.A., and we certainly don’t want to become Folsom. Yet our residents continue to demand a high level of service, which does come at a cost,” Thomas said. “Our residents don’t want (the county) to be an enclave for the rich, yet that is exactly what will happen if our community continues to fight development at all cost.”
Thomas said developing attainable housing will create paths to counter the homeless crisis in El Dorado County. She cited statistics on use of the newly opened navigation center in Placerville.
Since opening in February, there have been 174 admissions with 37 returning clients. The average length of stay is 66 days and many clients are now receiving substance abuse and mental health counseling, according to Thomas.
Ten have moved into permanent housing. Thomas insisted affordable housing developments will kill two birds with one stone.
“While 10 is not a huge number, I firmly believe those 10 would not be in permanent housing without the navigation center, so I am grateful for that,” Thomas said, adding that more people cannot be moved out of the temporary shelter unless they have more places to go.
“As revenue stays stagnant and the demands of our county stay strong, we continue to be a county that expects high service and low taxes and low development, which is challenging,” Thomas noted. “That said, our board and our staff understand that dichotomy. We cherish our hometowns, we cherish our rural character and our place in America’s history.”
On another note, she addressed new county leadership, including the recent appointments of Chief Administrative Officer Tiffany Schmid, El Dorado County Sheriff Jeff Leikauf and new Health and Human Services Director Olivia Byron-Cooper. Particularly, the search for the right HHSA director was a rocky one after Don Semon left in 2022. Evelyn Schaffer was brought on to lead the county’s health agency but lasted two months.
Thomas called the new leadership a “breath of fresh air.”
“(Schmid and Byron-Cooper) are collaborative, (they) bring inspired leadership and we are also working incredibly well with our new elected sheriff so you can be assured that the leadership of the county is in really good hands,” Thomas commented.
Continuing on the subject of county employment, the District 3 leader mentioned Human Resources, in collaboration with the board and department leaders, is taking measures to bring in and retain employees by offering competitive wages and improving internal work culture.
“Vacancy rates are going down and our employee satisfaction is going up, which hopefully will relate to a better experience for you at the county level, which is our ultimate goal,” Thomas said.
Regarding the county’s recent emergencies, which include the Caldor and Mosquito fires, floods and heavy snow and rain that plagued the area earlier this year and “snowmageddon” in 2022, Thomas said she is most proud of the establishment of the Office of Wildfire Preparedness and Resilience, a collaborative effort between Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service and county resource conservation districts and fire safe councils, which has gotten the attention of the Forest Service in Washington D.C. as a model they are watching, according to Thomas.
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