Board approves sheriff’s rate hike request

RIVERSIDE – Despite some pushback from officials in one city, the Board of Supervisors today approved Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff’s request to hike the rates charged to 17 municipalities and other contract entities for the use of patrol deputies.

The rate increase will be retroactive to July 1, 2016, and is needed to recoup higher operational costs incurred by the sheriff’s department, according to Sniff.

Under the revised rate schedule, the cost of a sheriff’s patrol deputy will rise from $160.22 to $168.45 per hour — a 5.14 percent jump from the previous fiscal year.

Moreno Valley City Councilman David Marquez and that city’s finance director, Marshall Eyerman, spoke in opposition to the hike.

Marquez complained the increase was being implemented without additional “boots on the ground” for patrol operations, while Eyerman noted that the city was carrying a disproportionate share of costs for the countywide Public Safety Enterprise Communication System, or PSEC, even as other cities signing onto the digital radio network were paying no up-front fees whatsoever.

Supervisor Marion Ashley stood by the rate adjustment, saying the sheriff’s department had gotten costs “under control” and was only seeking an increase commensurate with operational expenses incurred servicing Moreno Valley and the other contract entities.

“Our contracts are flat, and we’re not paying any raises (to deputies) now,” the supervisor said. “You’re realizing an overall savings. We’re going in the right direction.”

Board Chairman John Tavaglione said the PSEC system was a vital necessity because it replaced an “antiquated” analog system, and he couldn’t understand why there would be any complaints.

“We’re not charging for everything we should,” Ashley added.

In 2015, a 7 percent hike prompted an outcry from elected and non-elected officials from Indian Wells, Lake Elsinore, Moreno Valley, Palm Desert and Temecula, who challenged the justification for such a significant upward adjustment. They protested that law enforcement expenses were draining their budgets and should be capped.

That challenge served as impetus for the board’s decision to retain professional services firm KPMG to conduct a top-to-bottom review of sheriff’s operations, which concluded in the spring of last year. KPMG staff are working with sheriff’s officials now to implement potential cost-saving measures.

Moreno Valley and several other cities are examining the possibility of forming a joint powers authority with the goal of establishing an independent police agency for law enforcement services, effectively ending sheriff’s contracts.

According to the sheriff, the 5.14 percent rate adjustment will allow the department to cover salaries, benefits, equipment and collateral services associated with the supervisors, clerical staff and other personnel needed to support patrol operations.

“The contract rate each year is primarily driven by the actual labor costs of four different multi-year labor union agreements, negotiated periodically by the Board of Supervisors,” said sheriff’s Director of Finance Will Taylor. “The rate is calculated during the course of the year for that year to essentially provide `real time’ costs, as personnel wage and benefits drive 90 percent of the rate.”

Salary and benefits costs have ballooned 5 percent every year for the last decade, according to Taylor. Additionally, the sheriff’s inter-agency expenses, such as for county information technology and radio services, have steadily increased over the last year, he said.

Cities receive the benefit of helicopter patrols, robbery and homicide investigations, SWAT unit and bomb squad responses without having to foot the bills individually. Contracting entities are further spared the cost of lawsuits stemming from the actions of sheriff’s personnel, according to the sheriff.

The board also directed that nine cities pay increased sums for the sheriff’s use of facilities dedicated to servicing the communities.

Sheriff’s officials said the heftier bills generally stem from county Department of Facilities Management costs to maintain stations, including lights, waterworks, landscaping and custodial operations. The sheriff initially carries the expenses, then passes them on to the contracting parties, each of which is invoiced in proportion to how much they consume.

The largest percentage increase in facilities costs will be borne by Coachella, which faces a $163,284 bill, compared to $143,741 the previous year – a roughly 14 percent jump. Perris will bear the highest facilities fee in dollars and cents: $514,981 – up from $495,920 the previous fiscal year.

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