Though uncertainties dot the horizon, Riverside County government’s financial condition going into the middle of the current fiscal year is not as strained as officials originally predicted, according to a report that will be presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
“Overall, revenues are trending better than previously anticipated, although uncertainty remains due to COVID-19,” county CEO George Johnson said in an introduction to the 50-page first quarter 2020-21 budget report. “Supplemental property tax assumptions are coming in higher … Other notable increases are documentary transfer tax, as the county assessor reports an increase in document processing.”
The county reserve pool has been drawn down because of increased outlays directly tied to the public health emergency that began in March, according to Johnson. He said the $259 million in reserve funds with which the county began 2020-21 has been whittled down to $218 million — still more than the board thought likely a few months ago.
Johnson added that the county’s discretionary income unexpectedly rose $12 million at the close of 2019-20, though a large part of that was driven by court fines and penalties, as well as realignment revenue from the state.
None of the public safety agencies are signaling year-end budget deficits yet, according to the report.
It noted there remains $18.4 million in cash earmarked specifically for unforeseen contingencies. That revenue was higher, but about $1.6 million will go to the Riverside County Fair & Date Festival in Indio, which was canceled due to the public health lockdowns. Operating losses have to be covered, according to the report.
Johnson said that because of federal and state offsets, the county’s general assistance program, managed by the Department of Public Social Services, has actually experienced a net decline in caseloads, lessening the strain on county revenue streams. General assistance includes money for temporary housing and unemployment relief.
The county has received or been assigned nearly $500 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act funding since April. That money has been allocated for grant programs that support small businesses, nonprofits, rent stabilization and temporary work for youths, as well as retraining programs for adults.
Among public safety agencies, only the Department of Animal Services appears to be facing hurdles because of “a significant reduction in revenue” stemming from service interruptions, including the operation of shelters open to the public amid the lockdowns.
The agency had to shutter its San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus earlier this year due to depressed revenue.
In June, the board approved a $6.46 billion budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year. As part of the process, the Executive Office directed more than three dozen agencies to implement 10% across-the-board cuts to contain red ink.
The 2020-21 appropriations plan is roughly $200 million, or 3%, larger than the prior fiscal-year budget.
Initial projections were that the county could suffer a $100 million hit to revenues because of the lockdowns and related declines in consumer spending. That potential loss, however, was not mentioned in the first-quarter report.
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