Supervisors delay action intended to give sheriff autonomy over contracts

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Diane Sieker photo

Concerned about a lack of detailed information, Riverside County supervisors voted Tuesday, Jan, 8, to postpone a hearing on whether to permit Sheriff Chad Bianco and his staff to take over management of facilities maintenance at sheriff’s buildings, as well as independently handle future public works projects.

Supervisor Karen Spiegel expressed a lack of confidence in the data provided to her by Sheriff Chad Bianco and his staff, prompting her to join Supervisor Jeff Hewitt in requesting that the hearing be delayed until Jan. 28, which the board of supervisors unanimously voted to do.

“We need to make sure the entities that are involved in this are at the table so we’re not going on misinformation,” Spiegel said. “I know the Orange County sheriff has a plan, a business model, and I think we should look into that. We need to find ways to be more efficient with our dollars. But we need to make sure we have the information correct and not just make assumptions.”

Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington jointly introduced the proposal to grant the sheriff’s department autonomy in the procurement of janitorial and upkeep services for detention and administrative buildings, along with hiring engineering and architectural firms for planned projects, cutting out the county Economic Development Agency to net savings.

“By empowering the sheriff’s department with the ability to oversee and manage these services, they may realize significant savings that will allow them to help meet their budget goals and spend money on improving public safety
in the community, rather than bureaucracy,” the supervisors wrote in a statement attached to the board agenda.

The sheriff’s budget consumes the largest share of public safety allocations and is among the leading cost-drivers for the county every fiscal year. According to Jeffries and Washington, internal service funds have a major impact on the sheriff’s expenditures. ISFs comprise all the agencies within county government that provide interagency services.

The Economic Development Agency is an ISF department and generally takes charge of other agencies’ janitorial, landscaping, electrical and plumbing needs, in addition to serving as the point entity for public works requirements.

Most of its personnel are unionized.

“Costs in EDA-controlled areas have increased over 50% since fiscal year 2014-2015 and have outpaced the board’s approved budget allocation, fiscal year after fiscal year,” according to the supervisors’ proposal. “These cost increases are unsustainable and not only impact the sheriff’s operating budget, but are passed on to (the department’s) contract city partners as facility rate increases.”

Jeffries and Washington underscored their concern with escalating ISF expenditures by noting that in the last fiscal year, the sheriff’s building maintenance costs totaled $9 million, while the projection this year is for an aggregate $13 million to be spent.

The supervisors complained of “unclear justifications” for the surging expenses.

“This is the first of many challenging decisions we face as a board going forward,” Jeffries told his colleagues. “There is extreme pressure on departments to live within very restricted budgets. ISFs have been kind of left unrestricted, and the costs continue to escalate. We cannot continue that practice. This is a new board, a new day and new opportunities.”

Under their proposal, Bianco and his staff would have the discretion to seek contracts for custodial and other facilities maintenance with private entities to reduce operational costs.

They’re also proposing to permit the sheriff to independently – without EDA’s input – enter into agreements for furniture and fixtures acquisitions.

The proposal further seeks to displace EDA as the ultimate authority on architectural and engineering services, putting the sheriff’s staff in the driver’s seat on which consultants and companies to hire for planning and preparation. Jeffries and Washington noted that EDA’s ISF fees for overseeing public works projects can run anywhere from 2% to 20% of the overall outlays for a project’s budget.

Clearing the way for the sheriff to gain control of the maintenance, planning and other services contracts would require revisions to board policies B-11 and H-7.