10:34 PM PDT on Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BY DUANE W. GANG
STAFF WRITER
dgang@pe.com

Riverside County supervisors approved a final fiscal 2011-2012 budget on Tuesday and were immediately faced with the prospect of additional cuts and possible layoffs by next year.

Unless supervisors act, they will face another $80 million budget gap for the fiscal year beginning July 1, and for more than an hour, they sharply debated how best to proceed.

Supervisors Bob Buster and John Tavaglione clashed over whether to call for permanent, across-the-board 5 percent pay cut or engage in a more deliberate approach.

Riverside County can bridge the budget gap through cuts and layoffs or by finding other revenue sources such as borrowing against county buildings and land, an official says.

“The Inland Empire got its guts ripped out. It got shattered by this recession,” said Buster, who suggested the pay reduction.

“Now it is clear: This is the new normal for Riverside County,” Buster later added. “There is no relief in sight.”

Tavaglione said the county faces extreme challenges but supervisors have an obligation to employees to “remain calm and make very thoughtful, deliberate decisions” to overcome the financial hardships.

“I don’t like even putting out the thought of across-the-board cuts of 5 percent,” he said. “Five percent means the loss of a babysitter for a number of our employees. I think we need to be cognizant of that when we make those comments.”

The budget supervisors approved Tuesday on a 4-0 vote contains $649.3 million in the discretionary funds that board members control to pay for basic services such as law enforcement and fire protection. Supervisor Jeff Stone, recovering from surgery, was absent.

“The budget before you is a good-news, bad-news message,” County Executive Officer Bill Luna told the board.

The good news: The final budget is balanced. The bad: The spending plan relies heavily on one-time funding and reserves and does not permanently align ongoing expenses with revenues — something county officials had planned to do this year.

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