Riverside County supervisors next week will consider whether to trim, increase or leave unchanged appropriations for nearly two-dozen agencies that make up county government as the process of ratifying the proposed $6.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2019-20 begins.
Budget hearings will get underway Monday afternoon and likely continue Tuesday.
The Board of Supervisors has until June 30 to sign off on a recommended budget. A final budget must be in place by October.
“The county must continue to progress towards our shared mission, vision and set of goals to ensure the long-term fiscal sustainability for our county, and the health, welfare and safety of our residents,” county CEO George Johnson said in an introduction to the proposed budget. “All of this must be achieved while implementing strong cost controls. Hard decisions must be made while we balance the county’s priorities and the increased strain for services. This task is an absolute reality that all county departments and agencies must adopt and apply.”
The total appropriations for the current fiscal year topped out at $5.72 billion, according to the Executive Office, and the 2019-20 total would exceed that by 6.6 percent.
Salaries and benefits remain the county’s largest expenditure, with about 40 percent of revenue dedicated to payroll. Government is the top employer countywide, with 24,668 designated positions, the Executive Office said.
Public safety remains the largest consumer of general fund appropriations, at 44 percent, according to the budget reports.
The county is projecting that property tax receipts and motor vehicle license fee revenue will both increase about 6 percent in 2019-20. The two combined comprise the greatest share of general fund discretionary money, which is expected to total just over $1 billion in the upcoming fiscal year.
Figures showed that discretionary revenue should continue to climb over the next four years, though the reserve pool will decline as draw-downs are used to cover costs. Reserves are presently holding at $212 million, but that amount could drop by $50 million during 2022-23, according to the report.
The 700-page narrative detailed each department’s funding requests, financial and staffing challenges, as well as goals.
As in most years, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department sought an increase in general fund appropriations, which the recommended budget estimated to be $300.6 million, or roughly $20 million more than the current year’s level.
The sheriff’s total outlays would be $742 million, compared to $722 million in the current fiscal year, if the budget is approved by the board. That amount combines fee collections, Proposition 172 public safety sales tax revenue, grants, law enforcement contract payments and other sources, in addition to the general fund.
The department’s No. 1 near-term challenge will be staffing and maximizing use of the John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio, which will be operational by year’s end, according to the budget report.
The District Attorney’s Office is slated to receive a $5 million boost in general fund allocations, which would bring the agency’s total budget in 2019-20 to $129.2 million, figures showed.
Executive Office staff said D.A. Mike Hestrin continues to struggle with a rollover deficit projected at $9.7 million, even as he has not filled some vacant positions to manage costs.
According to the EO, the agency is under a major “strain” to meet “an astonishing 136” state mandates that have been implemented over the last three years, including changes in state law that permit some drug offenders to have their convictions reduced, as well as some gun crimes to be retroactively modified for the benefit of convicts. Prosecutors are having to re-litigate old cases as a result.
Public Defender Steve Harmon, whose agency is entirely dependent on general fund money, is also in line for an appropriations increase, totaling $1.5 million, as deputy public defenders also contend with higher caseloads and demands, according to the Executive Office.
In other segments of the public safety sphere, however, appropriations will be held at nearly the same level, or even reduced, under the recommended budget.
The Department of Probation is seeking the same general fund infusion in 2019-20 that it requested in the current fiscal year — $40.7 million, while the Fire Department’s recommended allocation is about $1.5 million less than in 2018-19.
The Riverside University Health System, which serves as a hub for multiple autonomous but related county units, would receive $3 million in additional funding, raising the composite RUHS budget to $678.8 million.
RUHS has been working to resolve a projected $16 million deficit due to ongoing losses at the 10 county-run public health clinics.
Officials have blamed the red ink mostly on inadequate federal reimbursement rates for healthcare delivered to the indigent and uninsured, as well as rising labor and pension costs for employees.
Whatever tentative budget the board approves will likely be amended through the summer, as the fiscal picture sharpens.`
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