10:33 PM PDT on Tuesday, March 29, 2011

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

Riverside Board of Supervisors meet about county budgets
Published: 3/29/2011 07:18 PM

Riverside County’s four public-safety departments painted a bleak picture Tuesday of their finances, saying they face significant budget shortfalls for next fiscal year.

The sheriff, district attorney, fire chief and probation chief told county supervisors that overcoming the gaps will require extra funding or steep cuts in services.

The four were the first to take their turns at the county’s annual budget workshops, which will stretch into Thursday, as supervisors weigh how best to balance ongoing expenses with declining revenues.

“Once more into the breach we go to meet the challenge before us, and that’s to return to structural balance,” County CEO Bill Luna told board members.

Discretionary revenues, which supervisors control to fund basic services, fell from $785 million in fiscal 2006-2007 to $592 million this year, Chief Financial Officer Ed Corser said.

For the fiscal year starting July 1, Corser said revenues aren’t expected to significantly increase.

The county has been working under a two-year plan to balance its budget and reduce reliance on one-time money, such as reserves, to fund ongoing operations.

But Corser said there are hiccups.

Halfway through the fiscal year ending June 30, the county is projecting a $31.3 million shortfall. And based on budget requests that departments have submitted for fiscal 2011-12, the deficit shoots up to about $100 million, Corser said.

Sheriff Stan Sniff said his department’s general fund costs are $287 million, well above the $225 million target set by Luna’s office.

In addition, Sniff said $20 million is needed to adequately fund inmate medical care. At the sheriff’s request, the state’s Corrections Standards Authority conducted a preliminary review and found the county’s inmate medical care was inadequate. The authority sets minimum standards for jails.

“The liability puts a huge bull’s-eye right on the Sheriff’s Department,” Sniff said.

Inmate medical care currently is provided by Riverside County Regional Medical Center’s Detention Health Services and the county’s Department of Mental Health.

Like other non-public-safety departments, the two had to make significant cuts this year.

Whether the sheriff takes over the functions or they remain with the two current departments, Sniff said the problem must be fixed.

But Luna cautioned supervisors that the authority is an advisory and not a regulatory agency. He said a full review under way now should be sent to the two current departments providing inmate care.

Outside of the medical issues, Sniff said the general fund budget could be reduced to $260 million if Jurupa Valley, set to incorporate July 1, contracts with the sheriff and if supervisors achieve savings through negotiations with the Riverside Sheriff’s Association.

District Attorney Paul Zellerbach, who took office in January, told supervisors he faces a 10 percent reduction for next fiscal year.

He said 5 percent is a result of cuts that should have taken place this year.

“Unfortunately, I don’t want to be held accountable for the sins of my predecessor, nor do I want my employees to suffer because of that situation,” he said, referring to former DA Rod Pacheco.

Zellerbach said the department’s general fund costs are currently $66.8 million.

He asked — begged, in his words — for supervisors not to hold him accountable for what happened in prior years. Instead, he said, his office could produce a $62 million budget for next year, cutting nearly $5 million without eliminating programs that track sex offenders and gang members.

“We can meet that goal,” said Zellerbach.

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