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Kings unemployment rate at 8.2 percent

HANFORD — While Kings County’s unemployment rate rose in December, the yearly average rate is at its lowest in at least 28 years.

Friday, the California Employment Development Department reported the unemployment rate for Kings County in December as 8.2 percent, up from 7 percent in November, but just below the December 2017 estimate of 8.4 percent.

Kings County lost 300 agricultural jobs from November to December, likely due to the seasonal winter slowdown. The county also lost 100 government jobs and another 100 jobs in trade, transportation and utilities in that same November-December time.

The numbers are rounded up to the nearest 100.

According to the EDD, the county’s average unemployment for the entire year of 2018 was 7.8 percent. This is the lowest rate reported for the area in figures dating back to 1990.

While 7.8 percent may seem high compared to the state average of 4.8 percent and the national average of 3.7 percent, it’s less than half of what the average Kings County unemployment rate was in 2010, which was 16.1 percent.

Experts say rural counties like Kings with an agricultural base generally have higher unemployment than other areas.

According to EDD data, Kings County’s unemployment rates were consistently in the double digits every month from 2009-2013 — the highest being 18.1 percent in March 2010.

The county didn’t record a rate under 10 percent until September 2014. Rates have been slowly getting better every year since that time.

In 2018, the month of September was the best for Kings County, with the unemployment rate dipping down to 6 percent — the lowest rate the county has ever reached in the state’s reported figures dating back to 1990.

"It's fantastic," Lance Lippincott, CEO of Kings County Economic Development Corporation said about the year-over-year improvements.

Lippincott said growth that started last year is paying off now. While there is no specific factor he can pinpoint, he said jobs in areas like healthcare are growing.

Another positive trend is what Lippincott said is a "definite uptick" in businesses interested in locating or expanding in the area.

"Overall, the Kings County economy is booming," he said.

Overall, Kings County added 600 jobs compared to a year ago for a total of 47,700 jobs. The EDD reports that 200 of those jobs were in the farm industry and 400 of them were nonfarm jobs.

Average unemployment rates in nearby counties also fell, with Fresno reaching its lowest point in 28 years with 7.4 percent. Tulare County’s rate dipped to 9.4 percent, its lowest since 2007 when it was at 9.2 percent, while Kern County’s rate is at its lowest point in at least 28 years with 8 percent.

Out of the 58 counties in the state, only five counties have higher unemployment rates than Kings, including Modoc (8.5 percent), Plumas (8.7 percent), Tulare (9.4 percent), Colusa (15.7 percent) and Imperial (17.3 percent).

Kings County unemployment rates by city:

  • Hanford – 6.8 percent
  • Lemoore – 6 percent
  • Corcoran – 13.5 percent
  • Armona – 13 percent
  • Avenal – 9.8 percent
  • Stratford – 16.5 percent
  • Kettleman City – 7.6 percent

File Photo / The Sentinel 

Derek Weisser stands at the top of the new bike ramp at the soon-to-be-opened Lemoore BMX Raceway. The first championship qualifying race to be held at the facility is May 7.

BMX organization races into 2019 with fundraiser

HANFORD — Framework Racing is speeding toward its 2019 goals but it needs help from local donors and bicycle enthusiasts to do so.

The nonprofit organization which operates both the Hanford and Lemoore BMX raceways, is hosting its third annual Deep Pit Fundraiser this weekend.

“There’s so much we want to do that we kind of have to baby-step it each year. We’d love to come right out and build a million-dollar park with huge grandstands and all that stuff, but we do it slowly,” Framework Racing chairman Derek Weisser said.

The fundraiser is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday at the Lemoore Trinity Hall, 470 Champion St., Lemoore. The funds raised will go toward improving the tracks at both sites, concrete upgrades and fixing damages sustained during recent storms.

Both raceways have recently had to hit the brakes on scheduled races, which take place on Wednesday evenings in Hanford and Monday evenings in Lemoore due to the rainy weather.

“We expect [the rain]. That’s pretty much how it rolls through the winter. It’s nothing that catches us off guard, but it does take a little elbow grease to get the tracks back in shape,” Derek said.

Board member and wife of Derek, Michelle Weisser, said that the Deep Pit Fundraiser is the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year, bringing in nearly $15,000 to keep the BMX raceways open, operation and safe.  

Recently, both raceways installed balance bike tracks for riders ages 2-5. Balance bikes are two-wheeled bicycles with no pedals that teach toddlers how to balance while on a bike by being short enough their feet can easily reach the ground.

The fundraiser will feature an hour of hors d’oeuvres and social hour followed by a deep pit beef and chicken dinner and a no-host bar.

The night will culminate in live and silent auctions as well as an auction for desserts.

“The desserts will be amazing,” Michelle said, adding that local ice creams will be on the menu as well as other treats.

Other auction items include car washes, gift baskets donated by local businesses, arts and crafts and one-on-one training sessions with the raceways’ pros and coaches.

The cost is $25 per person with discounts for tables of eight.

For those interested in signing up for memberships to either raceway, free one-day trials are available to test the waters, as well as 30-day trial memberships and full memberships. Derek said that the new season began the first day of the year and the membership roster is beginning to fill up now.

For more information, visit

Senate sets up showdown votes on shutdown plans

WASHINGTON — Senate leaders on Tuesday agreed to hold votes this week on dueling proposals to reopen shuttered federal agencies, forcing a political reckoning for senators grappling with the longest shutdown in U.S. history: Side with President Donald Trump or vote to temporarily end the shutdown and keep negotiating.

Meanwhile, the White House is moving forward with plans for Trump to deliver his State of the Union speech next week in front of a joint session of Congress — despite a letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting he delay it.

The White House sent an email to the House sergeant-at-arms asking to schedule a walk-through in anticipation of a Jan. 29 address, according to a White House official who was not authorized to discuss the planning by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. set up the two showdown votes for Thursday, a day before about 800,000 federal workers are due to miss a second paycheck. One vote will be on his own measure, which reflects Trump's offer to trade border wall funding for temporary protections for some immigrants. It was quickly rejected by Democrats. The second vote is set for a bill approved by the Democratic-controlled House reopening government through Feb. 8, with no wall money, to give bargainers time to talk.

Both measures are expected fall short of the 60 votes need to pass, leaving little hope they represent the clear path out of the mess. But the plan represents the first test of Senate Republicans' resolve behind Trump's insistence that agencies remain closed until Congress approves $5.7 billion to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. For Democrats, the votes will show whether there are any cracks in the so-far unified rejection of Trump's demand.

Democrats on Tuesday ridiculed McConnell's bill, which included temporarily extended protections for "Dreamer" immigrants, but also harsh new curbs on Central Americans seeking safe haven in the U.S.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the GOP plan's immigration proposals were "even more radical" than their past positions. "The president's proposal is just wrapping paper on the same partisan package and hostage taking tactics," offering to temporarily restore programs Trump himself tried to end in exchange for wall funding, Schumer said.

McConnell accused Democrats of preferring "political combat with the president" to resolving the 32-day partial federal shutdown. He said Democrats were prepared to abandon federal workers, migrants and all Americans "just to extend this run of political theater so they can look like champions of the so-called resistance" against Trump.

The confrontational tone underscored that there remained no clear end in sight to the closure. Amid cascading tales of civil servants facing increasingly dire financial tribulations from the longest federal shutdown in history, the Senate chaplain nudged his flock.

"As hundreds of thousands of federal workers brace for another painful payday, remind our lawmakers they can ease the pain," Chaplain Barry Black intoned as the Senate convened.

The upcoming vote on the Democratic plan marked a departure for McConnell, who had vowed to allow no votes on shutdown measures unless Trump would sign them.

The White House views its latest offer as a test of whether Democratic leaders can hold their members together in opposition, said a person familiar with White House thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly. The administration also wants to show they are willing to negotiate, hoping it will push more blame onto Democrats, who are opposing negotiations until the government reopens. 

Trump's decision to proceed to speak before Congress is the latest in a game of political brinksmanship between Trump and the House Speaker as they remain locked in an increasingly personal standoff over Trump's demand for border wall funding that has forced a partial government shutdown that is now in its second month.

The gamesmanship began last week when Pelosi sent a letter to Trump suggesting that he either deliver the speech in writing or postpone it until after the partial government shutdown is resolved, citing security concerns. But the White House maintains Pelosi never formally rescinded her invitation, and is, in essence, calling her bluff.

"She has not canceled it. She asked us to postpone it," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in an interview Tuesday with Fox News Channel.

"We have no announcement at this time," he said, "but Nancy Pelosi does not dictate to the president when he will or will not have a conversation with the American people."

At the same time, the White House is continuing to work on contingency plans to give Trump a backup in case the joint-session plans fall through. The president cannot speak in front of a joint session of Congress without both chambers' explicit permission. A resolution needs to be agreed to by both chambers specifying the date and time for receiving an address from the president.

Officials have been considering a list of potential alternative venues, including a rally-style event, an Oval office address — as Pelosi previously suggested — a speech before the Senate chamber, and even a return visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, according to two others familiar with the discussions.

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KCSO: Man arrested for rape of minor

HANFORD — Kings County Sheriff’s deputies have arrested a man for allegedly sexually assaulting an underage girl he met online, officials said.

On Dec. 17, Sheriff’s deputies responded to a local hospital in regards to a 15-year-old female who was giving birth. Due to the age of the girl giving birth, the hospital contacted law enforcement.

After speaking with the minor, deputies said she told them she had been sexually assaulted by a man she had met on Facebook.

Sheriff’s officials said she identified the suspect as 31-year-old Hector Montez and showed deputies a picture from his Facebook profile.

The girl told deputies Montez picked her up from school because she needed a ride. After she got into the vehicle, they said he drove her to an area around 18th and Jackson avenues.

She repeatedly told him to take her home, but officials said Montez refused and after he stopped the car he held her down and sexually assaulted her.

Information was gathered in regards to the whereabouts of Montez and deputies said they located him at his place of work.

Authorities said Montez was arrested without incident and was later booked into the Kings County Jail on suspicion of rape by force or fear of bodily injury, great bodily injury, kidnapping and false imprisonment. His bail was set at $5.2 million.