RIVERSIDE – Despite one member’s criticism over spending limited funds, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved extending a contract with a professional services firm to stay on track with reforms intended to make multiple county agencies more efficient and cheaper to run.
In a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Kevin Jeffries dissenting, the board signed off on an amended agreement with Netherlands-based KPMG – at a not-to- exceed additional cost of $20.3 million – for continued work over the next two years.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction with this, and we’ll see results over time,” outgoing county Chief Financial Officer Paul McDonnell told the board just before its vote.
McDonnell was responding to Jeffries’ questions about the timing and necessity of the expenditure in the midst of ongoing uncertainties regarding Sheriff Stan Sniff’s budgetary hurdles – manifested by $30 million in red ink this fiscal year – and inability to bolster patrol operations.
“The sheriff is down 400-plus employees … and we’re going to spend millions and millions more (on the KPMG contract)?” Jeffries said.
Supervisor Marion Ashley conveyed his firm belief that the county was “on the right track, going in the right direction” with KPMG’s work, a sentiment largely embraced by supervisors Manuel Perez, John Tavaglione and Chuck Washington.
KPMG was initially retained by the board in October 2015 to come up with solutions on how to improve public safety operations to net cost reductions, and roughly five months later, the board voted to expand the firm’s scope by including general government agencies in the audit.
KPMG was then put under contract, at a cost of $21 million, to help implement efficiencies that its staff had identified.
“Engaging outside experts to evaluate county operations should produce recommendations to improve the cost-effectiveness and quality of those operations for the benefit of all our citizens and internal department users,” according to an Executive Office statement on the new contractual terms.
KPMG manager Ian McPherson told the board last month that operational modifications orchestrated by the firm in the public safety arena had resulted in $41 million in savings.
“This is not a short journey. It’s a transformation,” McPherson said. “Our plea is, stay the course.”
Tavaglione has been among the firm’s biggest boosters, lauding KPMG for “outside the box” methods and saluting its “great progress” in re-tooling the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department.
Jeffries, a fiscal hawk, has questioned whether any measurable changes have taken place, or if it’s all window dressing.
Jeffries concerns were supported by Sniff, after the sheriff politely but unequivocally said that KPMG’s efforts had yet to tease out identifiable structural reforms that might help the sheriff’s department capture sizable savings while decreasing pressure on existing resources.
“You really need to look at this stuff very carefully. Money is very scarce. You’re spending tens of millions of dollars more when deputy positions are vaporizing,” Sniff said.
Tavaglione chided Sniff for the comment and said he was “disappointed” in the sheriff and had faith that KPMG was “doing good stuff.”
According to the amended contract, KPMG’s personnel will remain on hand to assist the Department of Human Resources in achieving $50 million in savings through organizational changes.
The Department of Purchasing and Fleet Management will also receive assistance in “right-sizing” its vehicle fleet and overhauling management units to garner up to $40 million in savings.
Operational reboots in the public safety agencies will also put the county on a path to net $100 million in savings, mainly via “staffing and scheduling optimization, demand and capacity management and analytical support,” according to the Executive Office.
Other county entities targeted for reform under the amended compact include the Department of Animal Services, the Department of Code Enforcement, the Department of Planning and the Department of Public Social Services.