Riverside-County-Seal

10:00 PM PST on Tuesday, November 24, 2009

By DUG BEGLEY
The Press-Enterprise

Hope of a swift rebound to Riverside County’s dour budget situation has faded, and officials are now predicting furloughs past this fiscal year amid even more dire financial projections that have the county potentially insolvent by 2012 under some scenarios.

“We’ll do the best that we can to minimize the loss of jobs,” 3rd District Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone said. “But there are going to be some job losses in this county.”

County Administrator Bill Luna and Finance Director Paul McDonnell told supervisors the county must make changes to its current fiscal year 2009-10 budget to account for a $20 million loss in revenue. The dip will be filled by reserve money in the county’s general fund, under a plan presented to the supervisors.

Supervisors will wait until Dec. 1 to tackle short- and long-term solutions, once a fifth member is sworn in.

State Sen. John J. Benoit, who is relinquishing his seat in Sacramento to replace Roy Wilson on the county’s five-member board of supervisors, will be installed Tuesday. Benoit was present for the county budget discussions on Tuesday, but could not vote.

To deal with previous budget struggles, the county already imposed 10 percent budget cuts for all departments and furloughed employees on Fridays.

Bad Outlook

When Benoit arrives as a full member of the board, work will have to begin quickly on the fiscal year 2010-11 budget. This time, McDonnell said reserves are not going to be able to fill budget gaps.

“To sum up, I think I’ll just say we’re in deep water here,” he said.

Revenue for the current fiscal year is expected to be $609 million, down from initial projections of $629 million. But McDonnell said expenses in fiscal 2010-11 are anticipated to top $680 million.

“I believe we need to learn to live with less over the next few years,” Luna said.

Supervisors agreed, and said unlike previous cutbacks to deal with bad budget times, everyone must share the pain.

“I think we need to stop bleeding, or else we’re going to dig ourselves further in a hole,” Second District Supervisor John Tavaglione said.

Shared Burden

Tavaglione said he will not support more use of reserve funds, saying county departments must learn to live with less money until the economy rebounds. And everyone must share in the pain, Tavaglione and others said.

The sheriff’s department and district attorney’s office are funded by a special public safety tax. As spending has declined — thus reducing sales tax collections — the sheriff and district attorney’s office have requested reserve funds.

Supervisors said that should stop. Though they support deputies and prosecutors, Tavaglione said the county is more than just cops and courts.

“It is not just about safe communities, it is about healthy communities,” he said. “…It is time to stop the nonsense of pitting one county agency against the next.”

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