STOCKTON — San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors chair Tom Patti said Tuesday that he was humbled by the community’s effort to work together during one of the most difficult periods the world had experienced last year.
“Just a year ago, we could have never anticipated that the greatest collective challenge of our generation was just around the corner, or that it would upend each of our lives in so many different ways,” Patti said. “While we will continue to face challenges even as the immediate health impacts of COVID-19 subside, we are ready, we’ve been tested, and have become practiced at expecting the unexpected and responding with our best effort and without hesitation.”
Patti, who represents District 3 on the five-member board, made his comments during his State of the County presentation Tuesday.
His presentation focused on how the board remained committed to achieving its five priorities. Those priorities include maintaining fiscal responsibility, practicing good governance, maintaining public safety, promoting economic growth and protecting water resources.
Patti said while those priorities were hard to accomplish while a majority of residents and county staff worked remotely during the pandemic, everyone worked relentlessly to keep local governments running.
“Even during a year of economic uncertainty and hardship, we maintained a sharp focus on the principle of fiscal health,” he said. “While many counties passed through prior-year budgets, we completed our 2020-21 budget process with the same commitment and focus as we always have. While there will be continued fiscal impacts from COVID, we did our best to maintain a solid foundation in a transparent and accountable manner.”
Despite a countywide jobless rate that reached as high as 18% in April, as well as a decrease in taxes and consumer spending due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the board was able to approve a $1.9B budget last June. The budget was an increase of $60.5 million from fiscal year 2019-2020.
Patti added that along with a balanced budget last summer, the county has 90% of its labor agreements in contract for the next 24 months, ensuring nurses and other front-line health care providers stay at San Joaquin General Hospital and other county medical centers while the pandemic continues.
A major highlight for the county in 2020 was its distinction of being the first in the state to receive funding from the California Department of Food and Agriculture to participate in the Housing for the Harvest program, which provided temporary housing for agricultural workers and food processing employees to safely isolate if they tested positive for COVID-19, or had been exposed to the virus.
In addition, the county launched two grant programs that provided financial assistance to both small businesses and families during the pandemic.
The county made $10 million in grants available to small businesses to address expenses like rent, mortgages, utility bills and personal protective equipment for employees, and so far has allocated more than $7 million to recipients.
Some $5 million in grant funding was given to individuals and families harmed financially by the pandemic and who were struggling to make rent, mortgages or utility payments, or pay for basic needs.
And while the county saw significant job loss during the first few months of the pandemic, Patti said the county continued to push forward with economic development, securing $2.6 million to provide a summer training and employment program for students with disabilities.
The county also administered a workforce accelerator fund to assist 50 homeless individuals with education, training, workshops and supportive services, as well as completed a National Dislocated Worker trade and Economic Transition program that provided 150 participants affected by trade changes during the pandemic.
Patti touched on the county’s efforts to combat homelessness this past year, which included planning for Victory Gardens, a 7-acre community featuring 49 units of affordable housing in French Camp. The project is set to get underway this year, he said.
During the pandemic, the county implemented Project Roomkey, in which $3 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stimulus Act funding provided safe room and housing at two hotels for about 150 seniors and individuals at-risk of being homeless and keep them safe from exposure to COVID-19.
Plans are moving forward to create homeless shelters, navigation centers and rental assistance programs throughout the county, he said, as well as programs to prevent youth homeless.
Looking to the year ahead, Patti said it was critical residents go back to work and children return to school for in-person instruction, as well as stop transmission of COVID-19 in the county’s most vulnerable and underserved communities.
While the county had administered more than 140,000 vaccinations as of Tuesday, he urged residents to continue getting tested for COVID-19, sign up for vaccines, wear their masks and practice social distancing and health protocols.
“We’ve stood by each other in very tough times and I truly believe we will be stronger when we emerge from this crisis,” Patti said. “Together we will prevail. Because we are resilient, we are hard working, and a community of support and opportunity. We are San Joaquin county strong.”