The Board of Supervisors is slated next week to formally adopt a $5.6 billion budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, slightly increasing appropriations to several public safety agencies to cover spending gaps identified during the budgeting process.
“Constrained spending increases … will keep us on the path to structural balance,” Riverside County CEO George Johnson wrote in the final draft of the spending plan. “We must use discipline and collaboration to institute the efficiencies necessary to address the rising demand for services within these financial constraints.”
The primary changes put forward since the June 11 budget hearing apply to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Department and Department of Probation.
D.A. Mike Hestrin sought and got an additional $1.5 million to contend with growing needs within the agency stemming from changes in state law. Hestrin will still carry a roughly $4 million deficit going into 2018-19, which officially starts July 1, but the increased discretionary funding will alleviate some of the burden, the county’s top prosecutor told the board earlier this month.
Sheriff Stan Sniff is set to receive an additional $2 million, which he’s expected to put toward patrol operations in the unincorporated communities, where often only two deputies are available at any given time to respond to service calls over an expanse of several hundred square miles.
The sheriff ended the current fiscal year in the black, despite starting out with an estimated $30 million revenue hole.
Chief Probation Officer Mark Hake is also ending 2017-18 in the black, but the probation department is in line for an infusion of $1.8 million, specifically in support of staffing changes for compliance with the California Prison Rape Elimination Act, according to Executive Office documents.
The 700-page budget proposal reflects healthy revenue increases and most agencies’ successes in containing expenses as 2017-18 comes to a close.
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries questioned a number of items included in the final spending plan, trying to ferret out savings.
One of the proposals he demanded an answer to was an Economic Development Agency plan for remodeling a bathroom at county fire Station No. 26 in Hemet — at a cost of $1.15 million. The agency said the project had been tabled.
The budget report highlighted an “all-time low” 3.8 percent countywide unemployment rate as an example of the area’s economic strength, boding well for revenue growth.
“Somewhere on the horizon, there will be an economic slowdown,” Chief Financial Officer Don Kent said during the June 11 budget hearing. “Hopefully it’s a long way off.”
The $5.6 billion budget is roughly 2 percent higher than the current fiscal year’s appropriations. Just over two-thirds of the spending is covered by so-called “pass-through” funds supplied by the state and federal governments for a range of county-managed programs.
The budget projects that discretionary revenue — a combination of property taxes, motor vehicle revenue-in-lieu-of-property-taxes and fees — will top out at $781 million, representing a 4 percent jump from the current fiscal year. Officials emphasized that despite the boost, roughly $18 million in contingency funds will be needed to cover some expenditures controlled by the board.
Executive Office staff said salaries and benefits, which comprise 40 percent of the entire general fund budget, are creeping up, forcing agencies to make adjustments to keep a lid on costs.
The county has about 22,000 employees. Johnson implemented a “targeted hiring freeze” in January to ensure that positions weren’t added unless supported by existing revenue.
Big-ticket items that continue to drain county resources include the phased opening of the Benoit Detention Center in Indio, the federal consent decree requiring enhanced medical care for inmates in the county’s five correctional facilities, expansion of the Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley, and pension obligations, which will add $100 million or more to the county’s annual outgo over the next decade.
The Executive Office said the county’s reserve pool should settle at $190 million at the end of the current fiscal year, but that level will erode as officials reach into the pot to offset an ongoing structural imbalance.
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