The Riverside County Board of Supervisors Tuesday adopted a $5.6 billion budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, slightly increasing appropriations to several public safety agencies to cover spending gaps but taking no action on how to allocate monies left over from a multimillion-dollar contract, prompting one supervisor to question why.
“There’s a lot of hard work ahead, a lot of cost pressures facing us, along with deficit spending,” Riverside County Chief Executive Officer George Johnson told the board. “It’s important for (us) to stay the course that we’ve charted together.”
The supervisors voted 4-0 — with Supervisor Marion Ashley absent — to make adjustments put forward since the June 11 budget hearing, making additional funds available to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s and Probation departments.
D.A. Mike Hestrin will receive 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 Saturday, but the increased discretionary funding will alleviate some of the burden, the county’s top prosecutor told the board earlier this month.
Chief Probation Officer Mark Hake will have an extra $1.8 million to spend on state-mandated programs, and Sheriff Stan Sniff will 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’s department ended the current fiscal year in the black, touting $10 million in savings, despite starting out with an estimated $30 million revenue hole. Three-quarters of the sheriff’s cash capture will be returned to the general fund.
However, the agency’s unspent funds led Supervisor Kevin Jeffries to insist on clarity regarding another item in the 2018-19 appropriations plan — the $41 million contract with Netherlands-based professional services firm KPMG.
Jeffries, who has been a critic of the KPMG contract since it was approved just over two years ago, specifically asked the Executive Office how funds left over from the firm’s work in the public safety arena, which is essentially completed, will be utilized. The supervisor said EO staff had failed to “account for” the funds in a written response to an inquiry he made earlier this month.
“If there are unused surplus funds, they need to come back … and be placed in contingency (accounts) or reserves,” he said.
Supervisor Chuck Washington said the issue was not “controversial” and didn’t require immediate action as part of the budgeting process, while Supervisor John Tavaglione suggested any money unspent for KPMG should be routed to a proposed “County Performance Unit,” which would be tasked with ensuring reform measures implemented by the board are fulfilled.
No motions were made, and Jeffries persisted in wanting clarification on how much money may be available, as well as assurances that the funds would not be “transitioned to other departments” without a full review by the board.
Supervisor V. Manuel Perez also expressed concern about a lack of “hard numbers” to substantiate that KPMG’s work in streamlining and reducing costs in public safety and general government departments had been satisfactory.
“What are the specifics?” he asked.
Johnson said the matter would be fully explained to the board during its July 17 meeting.
The budget reflects healthy revenue increases and most agencies’ successes in containing expenses as 2017-18 comes to a close.
The 700-page 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.
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 outgo, 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 in the current fiscal year, but that level will erode as officials reach into the pot to offset an ongoing structural imbalance.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: