10:00 PM PDT on Monday, April 4, 2011

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

Riverside County’s top executive recommended Monday that supervisors hold the line on spending, including for the sheriff’s and fire departments.

That could mean layoffs for more than 300 deputies in the Sheriff’s Department and the closure of 500 jail beds to overcome a $35 million shortfall.

For the Fire Department, overcoming a $9.9 million gap without new revenue will mean cutting three battalion chiefs, closing a station in Blythe and reducing other support staff and personnel.

“We need to balance this budget, and we are coming to the point where it is by any means necessary,” County Executive Officer Bill Luna said.

Monday’s discussion lasted more than two hours and followed three days of workshops last week in which department administrators outlined how they would carry out budget cuts.

The county faces a $31.1 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year ending June 30 and a gap ranging as high as $100 million for fiscal 2011-12.

Sheriff Stan Sniff said his department would need about $260 million in general fund revenue to support projected operations for next year. That amount is based on Jurupa Valley, which incorporates July 1, contracting with his department and supervisors achieving labor savings through negotiations with the Riverside Sheriff’s Association.

Luna’s recommended target for the Sheriff’s Department is $225 million.

Sniff said he would have to cut $18 million from patrols and another $19 million from the corrections budget, which would require closing 500 beds at Larry Smith Correctional Facility in Banning and negating the jail’s recently completed 582-bed expansion.

POINTED QUESTIONS

Monday’s debate became testy at times. Board Chairman Bob Buster repeatedly asked the sheriff for budget details that the supervisor said were missing.

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