RIVERSIDE – The Board of Supervisors approved additional funds for multiple agencies July 26, trying to overcome budgetary challenges in the current fiscal year, while higher spending authorizations for other agencies – including the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office – were put on hold.
“This budget is the first step in a journey toward fiscal sustainability,” county Chief Executive Officer Jay Orr wrote in a forward to the allocation resolution. “The success of this multi-year plan will depend on substantial restraint to maintain overall discretionary spending flat over the next five years while still delivering mission-critical county services.”
“Modest additional gains in discretionary revenues may occur, but we also face the potential for recessionary headwinds (that may) blunt forecasted revenue growth,” he said.
The board last month tentatively approved a $5.43 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2016-17 and set a floor on reserves at $150 million. More than two-dozen agencies requested increased revenue to meet expenses that will
exceed the spending thresholds set by the Executive Office through June 30, 2017.
According to the EO, unanticipated revenue streams, cost savings and accounting revisions netted $23 million in previously uncounted money that will help ease fiscal hardships and meet board objectives.
The county needed to spend down reserves by nearly $40 million, according to Executive Office staff. The reserve pool had totaled just over $200 million July 1.
The EO’s new allocation formula, which met board approval, includes $11 million more for the Riverside University Medical Center, $2 million more for detention health services, $500,000 more for the Department of Probation, $200,000 more for the Department of Animal Services, $2.2 million more for the Economic Development Agency, $3.5 million more for the Department of Waste Resources and $800,000 more for the Office of the Public Defender.
Public Defender Steve Harmon told the board in June that he would have to lay off 20 attorneys without an additional $2.1 million in discretionary revenue. It was uncertain whether he will still have to go forward with layoffs.
Sheriff Stan Sniff told the board last month that he was underfunded by more than $30 million. The EO did not provide any recommendations on what action the board would take to close that gap, nor did it spell out how to resolve a $19 million shortfall in District Attorney Mike Hestrin’s budget. Hestrin, however, assured the board last month that he could get by with less than half that.
During the board’s June 28 meeting, Supervisor Kevin Jeffries urged deeper cuts to hold the line on spending, with caps on supervisors’ discretionary funds and an end to paying lobbyists. Supervisor John Tavaglione argued that concerns about deficit spending were overblown and that the board was being reduced to a “circus” by making EO staff continue to adjust allocation formulas.
Discretionary revenue, composed largely of property tax receipts, is projected to go from $678 million to $735 million between the current and next fiscal year, according to the Executive Office.
In its 570-page report to the board last month, the EO pointed to ballooning detention health expenditures, along with cost-of-living adjustments, merit pay increases and other benefits guaranteed to many of the roughly 23,000 employees under collective bargaining agreements as putting a squeeze on the general fund.
The Executive Office identified actions that would help ease the financial burden, including eliminating a number of vacant unfunded positions, which presently number 7,268, as well as keeping new hires to a minimum and “holding firm on negotiations” with labor unions.