The Board of Supervisors Tuesday directed the Riverside County Executive Office to prepare a list of funded but vacant positions in every county agency to determine how many can be slashed from the rolls in light of looming budget woes.

“This is something that comes back over and over again,” said Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, who proposed the review. “We don’t really know how a department is doing by the end of the year (in reducing costs tied to vacancies). Going forward, we need to keep it down to a small factor.”

On a 5-0 vote, the board directed the Executive Office to return with a working list by next week’s meeting. Hewitt estimated there could be as many as 5,000 such designated but unfilled jobs within county government, meaning agencies are receiving money for salaries and benefits that is actually paying for equipment or covering other expenses.

With the county facing a $100 million deficit tied to the public health shutdowns that sapped economic activity amid the coronavirus pandemic, every penny needs to be accounted for, Hewitt said.

“We have positions that are created during severe budget constraints, and no positions are being eliminated,” said Supervisor Kevin Jeffries. “It’s the wrong optics for the board and county to maintain such a large number of employee positions and not be eliminating those positions when they’re not necessary anymore.”

Jeffries noted that vacant unfunded positions, which likely outnumber the vacant funded ones, are adding to confusion when appropriations are set for each agency.

“There’s value for everybody if we can go through and identify which ones to delete,” the supervisor said. “If a position is empty for six months, let’s get rid of it and move on.”

Sheriff Chad Bianco on Monday notified the board that in the current fiscal year, he had 334 vacant positions that are funded. But with sheriff’s academies shut down because of COVID-19, the likelihood of getting them filled in the next year appeared slim.

“We need to focus on real positions, the ones that are necessary,” Supervisor Karen Spiegel said. “If a position comes up, and we need to add it for various reasons, then it comes to the board for consideration. I’m in favor of streamlining and being better aligned.”

County CEO George Johnson said he was “in full support of eliminating as many vacant positions as possible that are not needed.”

“It’s easiest to eliminate vacant unfunded positions, and then we find out which are vacant funded positions and how many of those should remain in a department’s budget,” he said.

Johnson has requested that department heads only fill “mission critical” jobs under the present economic conditions.

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