Riverside County supervisors Tuesday tentatively approved a $6.1 billion budget for the next fiscal year, establishing a working appropriations plan that’s expected to be refined to restore some funding to several agencies in financial distress.
The new budget will require formal adoption next week to comply with state law.
Following budget hearings last week, the Board of Supervisors deferred action of any kind until there were proposals put forward to limit the losses of the Animal Services and Code Enforcement departments.
“We hit bone some time ago with cuts to Animal Services,” Supervisor Chuck Washington said during Tuesday morning’s budget hearing. “If we go straight to cuts and no changes in programs now, we’re not going to get where we want to be.”
With support from his colleagues, Washington proposed eliminating some or most of the proposed $2.8 million reduction in funding for the Department of Animal Services. Without some monetary restoration, the agency would be faced with curtailing operations at the San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus, and licensing, spay/neuter and other fees would have to be hiked to close the department’s budget gap, according to officials.
Board Chairman Kevin Jeffries said the county should additionally “explore all options” to determine whether Animal Services might need to be replaced with nonprofit organizations already serving some areas of the county, as a cost-control mechanism.
The matter will be reviewed again before formal adoption of the budget on June 25.
A proposed $1 million cut to the Department of Code Enforcement’s general fund support elicited criticism last week from Washington and Supervisor Manuel Perez, based on a presentation by Transportation & Land Management Agency Director Juan Perez, who has authority over code. He noted the department’s general fund support had been chopped 45 percent since 2016-17, and over the last decade, more than 100 field officers had been downsized.
In response, county Chief Executive Officer George Johnson Tuesday proposed chopping the planned $1 million cut in the agency’s general fund support by half, which seemed to allay concerns. That compromise is slated to be incorporated into the final budget blueprint.
Total appropriations for the current fiscal year will top out at $5.72 billion, according to the Executive Office, and the proposed 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. Public safety remains the largest consumer of general fund appropriations, at 44 percent, according to the 700-page budget report.
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.
Discretionary revenue is expected to 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 in 2022-23, according to the report.
As in most years, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has 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. 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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