The Board of Supervisors signed off Tuesday on a report by Riverside County Auditor-Controller Paul Angulo showing the county’s liability payouts over a five-year period ran the highest per capita compared to five other counties, though the Executive Office objected to how Angulo arrived at his conclusions.
“When I see these numbers, it’s very unsettling,” Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said after reviewing the Legal Settlement Cost Report. “If they’re at all accurate, we’ve got some real issues, and we need to address them.”
County Chief Executive Officer George Johnson and his staff questioned the methods used by Angulo and his team, noting that the auditor-controller incorporated both settlements and judgments — with legal fees — against the county between Jan. 1, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2017.
However, in calculating the same five-year liability expenses for Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego and Santa Clara counties, the auditor-controller only factored in “settlement costs,” not judgments and legal fees, Johnson said.
“This creates a distortion when comparing Riverside County and other counties,” the CEO wrote in a response to Angulo’s report.
Angulo, who did not appear before the board, stands by his findings, according to Chief Assistant Auditor Rene Casillas.
“The data points were documented and confirmed,” he told the board.
The county’s total liability costs over the five-year period amounted to $136.59 million, according to the report. Only Los Angeles County’s liability outgo was higher at $321 million during the same period.
Data indicated that Riverside County’s expenses were larger than Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego and Santa Clara’s payouts combined during the five-year time frame. However, both Angulo and board Chairman Kevin Jeffries acknowledged that San Bernardino County’s $36 million in disclosed settlements was probably well below the actual number, which the auditor-controller said was not released.
Among the data tables provided by the Office of the Auditor-Controller, the one exhibiting the starkest example of the county’s liability challenges was the per capita graph. It indicated that of all the counties used for comparative purposes, Riverside County had the highest disbursal rate per resident — $56.37. The county has roughly 2.2 million people.
Los Angeles County, with just over 10 million residents, was ranked second, with a per capita disbursal rate of $31.59 per resident, figures showed.
By way of contrast, Santa Clara County, which is in Northern California but was utilized as a benchmark because it has nearly the same size population as Riverside County, had a per capita disbursal rate of $15.44.
By far, the public safety segment of the county budget had the most significant liability troubles, with $84.78 million of the $136 million in settlements and negative judgments over the five-year period emanating from public safety, according to the report.
The Executive Office’s response to the findings emphasized that the county receives, on average, 1,100 liability risk claims annually, and “85 percent are resolved with no financial payout.”
Johnson said his staff, including attorneys from the Office of County Counsel, were working on a comprehensive analysis requested last month by Jeffries regarding what changes in county policies might be necessary to reduce liability exposure.
The analysis is due back shortly after the start of the 2019-20 fiscal year.
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