Several Riverside County public safety agencies are projecting deficits going into the next fiscal year, but funding levels for county government as a whole appear to be stable, according to a preliminary budget outlook that the Board of Supervisors will review Tuesday.
The snapshot analysis, which will be presented by the Executive Office during the board’s policy agenda, is intended to kick-start discussions about spending and potential cuts in 2018-19.
According to the outlook, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office is anticipating a $14.5 million deficit, while the Sheriff’s Department is staring down a $15.8 million hole — most of it carried over from the 2016-17 fiscal year — and the Department of the Public Defender is about $700,000 in the red.
The Riverside University Health System is struggling with a $15 million overage, and the Economic Development Agency is trying to close a $1 million gap, according to figures.
Despite the red ink, county finances are shown to be on a relatively even trajectory in the years ahead, including 2018-19.
The EO’s multi-year forecast indicates budget reserves will total $203 million at the end of the current fiscal year — more than $40 million above the original forecast, thanks to savings netted from departments’ reductions and “untapped contingency” funds set aside this fiscal year.
The budget outlook additionally shows discretionary revenue steadily rising, from $748 million now to $781 million in 2018-19 and roughly $800 million in 2019-20.
Budget hearings will officially begin in June, though more budget-related discussions are expected when the Executive Office releases the 2017-18 third quarter budget report on May 22.
During the midyear report in February, much of the talk centered on the work of KPMG, a Netherlands-based professional services firm, and whether the company would be able to deliver on vaunted savings of tens of millions of dollars throughout county government in the future.
The board has authorized up to $40 million for KPMG to fashion reforms that streamline agencies’ operations and curb expenses.
Sheriff Stan Sniff, who is in the midst of a three-way election year race to retain his job, has been the most vocal critic of KPMG, saying the firm has been initiating pilot projects that are big on promise but short on results.
Supervisor John Tavaglione called the sheriff a “child” during the February hearing, deriding him as a spoilsport stuck in 20th century policing.
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries has complained that Executive Office analysts are failing to fully account for the county’s ballooning pension obligations when factoring budget expenses.
California Public Employees’ Retirement System data show that in the safety category — covering sheriff’s deputies, District Attorney’s Office investigators, probation agents and others — the county will need to commit the rough equivalent of 32 percent of payroll in 2018-19, about $118 million, exclusively to cover pension obligations. By 2024-25, that figure jumps to 47 percent, based on projections.
In the miscellaneous category — covering clerks, custodians, nurses, technicians and others — the county will need to commit a sum equal to 19 percent of payroll in 2018-19, about $226 million, to cover pension obligations. By 2024-25, that amount spikes to 29 percent, according to CalPERS.
The outlook noted that while baseline reserve requirements will be satisfied over the next four years, so-called “unassigned” allotments will be drawn down by $67 million to cover a number of growing expenses, including those tied to the phased opening of the John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio.
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