Kern County is now considering turning to private companies to run county services as one way to help cover a big decline in tax revenue.
While many cheer low oil prices for declining gas, it is costing Kern County in a major way. The lower cost of oil means the county is bringing in less in property taxes; As much as 60-million dollars less next year.
County Supervisor Mick Gleason says the county board voted this week to prioritize forming partnerships with private companies to run county services, potentially saving money.
“We do it all the time. We have all these public-private relationships that provide service all throughout the county. Whether it is trash haulers. Whether it is our ambulance service. Whether it is our hospital. So to me it is a no-brainer,” Gleason said.
The board drew strong push back from the public Tuesday when it floated the idea of privatizing its library system. That effort is on hold pending a series of public meetings.
Local union member Pete Rodriguez says even opening the door to private companies is a bad idea that could threaten the jobs and livelihoods of county employees.
“Once the county starts moving in one little direction, once they get their foot in the door, than they start meandering into different areas. And all we are trying to do is say ‘hey, wait a minute. Stop’,” Rodriguez said.
However, it is premature to sound the alarm about privatizing county responsibilities says County Administrative Officer John Nilon.
“At this point we really don’t have anything in mind. Even this discussion about libraries was just the beginning of the discussion. So I think we are going to have to wait and see what comes forward and what may make the most sense.” Nilon said.
The county board hopes to have meetings about library privatization in each district over coming weeks.