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More oil revenue expected to assist public education and county services

Posted at 5:22 PM, Mar 09, 2021

KERN COUNTY, Calif. — The Kern County Board of Supervisors made a decision that is expected to bring thousands of new oil wells to Kern County within the next two decades.

The planning commission met last month to discuss the proposal and recommend it for approval.

Monday, the board of supervisors met with that committee to discuss the proposal in two sessions.

Finally, after 7 hours of listening to public comment, the board unanimously voted to pass the revision, with that comes millions of dollars in additional revenue for Kern County, but how is that money used?

The plan is to use that money in a similar way that they have in recent years. According to county officials, a portion of that goes to public safety and education.

"We're talking about how important the oil industry is to the fire department, to public safety in general," said KCFD Fire Chief David Witt.

Kern County Fire Department Chief David Witt is the first to attest that his department has been struggling financially for some time.

"The fire department has cut cut cut and now we're down to the bare bones minimum. Any decrease in revenue that we receive will mean a decrease in services."

Witt says that decrease has been significant over the years, in 2014 KCFD received $34 million from oil revenue, in 2020, that number dropped down to $16 million.

But now, Witt is hoping for that figure to climb back up.

The Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to pass a revision of the 2015 ordinance that is expected to bring thousands of new oil and gas wells to Kern County within the next two decades, and with that comes millions of dollars of additional revenue.

According to the Kern County planning and natural resources department, the county received $197 million from oil and gas property taxes in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

More than $103 million of that went to county school districts, $80 million went straight to the county's general fund and over $12 million was given to special districts, which included multiple water districts and recreation and parks districts.

But according to Kern County Accessor Recorder Jon Lifquist, this fiscal year may experience less money generated by the oil industry.

"Oil had been increasing in price for about the last 5 years. When COVID hit, the demand for oil decreased dramatically and the price went down," said Lifquist.

Lifquist projects a 35% decrease in the county's oil industry this year, which is one reason he said it was vital for the county to pass the ordinance.

"The current decline in oil valuations are an indication of what further declines we might see in the future if we were unable to permit new oil wells."

If that happened "we would probably have to close fire stations."

Lifquist says the final projection on how big of a hit the oil industry took in Kern County will be finalized in July.