The Board of Supervisors Tuesday formally adopted a budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, restoring funding to several Riverside County agencies targeted for sizable cuts and mandating that any agency refusing to vacate private office space when cheaper county-owned property is available should bear the financial consequences.
Adoption of the $6.1 billion spending plan was necessary by June 30 to comply with state law. However, the budget will remain a work-in-progress until September, when a final blueprint must be in place.
Total appropriations for the current fiscal year will top out at $5.72 billion, according to the Executive Office, and the 2019-20 total is calculated to exceed that by 6.6 percent.
After three hearings, the board hammered out a compromise plan to spare several agencies from absorbing big hits to their funding under the fiscal austerity measures proposed by the Executive Office to keep spending thresholds at levels intended to whittle down the structural budget deficit plaguing the county’s books since the Great Recession.
A proposed $1 million cut to the Department of Code Enforcement’s general fund support elicited criticism two weeks ago from Supervisors Chuck Washington and Manuel Perez, based on a presentation by Transportation & Land Management Agency Director Juan Perez. He noted the department’s funding had been chopped 45 percent since 2016-17, and over the last decade, more than 100 field officers had been downsized.
CEO George Johnson said $500,000 will be restored to the agency, preventing further personnel cuts.
The Department of Animal Services’ nearly $3 million hole, however, will not be addressed under the provisional budget. Agency officials had expressed a desire to hike licensing and other fees, as well as reduce services at the San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus, to erase red ink.
Johnson told the board that establishing a “financial healing plan” for the department is underway, and a report will be issued in the next quarter identifying how animal services can be more efficient, hopefully negating the need for fee hikes and operational changes that impact the public.
At Washington’s urging, the Economic Development Agency will receive $1.3 million in funding, over the appropriations cap proposed in 2019-20 and to restore revenue streams curtailed in recent years. The money will support units that promote the county’s business climate, Washington said.
Board Chairman Kevin Jeffries insisted that county departments largely dependent on general fund money move out of private office buildings and into county-owned space wherever feasible to help contain costs. He said agency heads not amenable to the concept should suffer the consequences.
Under the new budget, a department head who elects not to take advantage of equitable county-owned real estate will have his or her general fund support reduced in proportion to the lease payments that the county would otherwise not owe by having the agency’s operations in a county building.
Salaries and benefits remain the county’s largest expenditure, with about 40 percent of revenue dedicated to payroll. Public safety is 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.
Figures showed that discretionary revenue should continue to climb over the next four years, though the $212 million reserve pool will decline as draw-downs are used to cover some costs.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department sought an increase in general fund appropriations, estimated to be $300.6 million, or roughly $20 million more than the current year’s level. The sheriff’s total outlays will 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 will receive a $5 million boost in general fund allocations, which will bring the agency’s total budget in 2019-20 to $129.2 million, figures showed.
D.A. Mike Hestrin continues to struggle with a rollover deficit projected at $9.7 million. According to the Executive Office, the agency is straining to comply with over 100 state mandates enacted over the last few 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.
The Riverside University Health System, which serves as a hub for multiple county units, will 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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