Riverside County Seal

Both made the case for public safety spending as supervisors stress need for savings.

By Jeff Horseman / Staff Writer
Published: June 20, 2016
Updated:   June 21, 2016 – 6:59 a.m.

In recent years, Riverside County supervisors have given the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices extra money on top of the millions they get to protect the public, even as other departments went without new county funding.

But this year, a desire to rein in spending and perhaps change the way the county handles budgets greeted Sheriff Stan Sniff and District Attorney Mike Hestrin during a special meeting Monday on next fiscal year’s budget.

The board heard from department heads throughout the day as it reviewed the $5.4 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Supervisors were expected to give preliminary approval this week before finalizing the budget later this year.

Faced with a $60.9 million shortfall to start the new fiscal year, the five supervisors stressed the need to find savings. Public safety consumes 75 percent of the county’s discretionary revenue.

Supervisors face a familiar challenge in the upcoming budget. New, inflexible and ongoing expenses, such as raises guaranteed to labor unions in exchange for pension concessions and a lawsuit settlement that will add at least $40 million a year to the cost of jail inmate health care, are outpacing revenue that took a massive hit during the Great Recession.

Supervisor John Benoit said the current budget picture isn’t as bleak as in prior years, which included furloughs and closures of nonessential offices. Still, county government will have to be more efficient, he said.

“The path we’re on is unsustainable otherwise,” Benoit said.

To plug the new budget’s shortfall, the county relies on a combination of savings and leftover funds. Reserves are projected to be about $147 million, or $41 million below a level set by board policy, which calls for an amount equal to 25 percent of discretionary revenue.

A long-range forecast predicts revenue will catch up with expenses by mid-2018. But to get there, the county executive office is urging supervisors to hold the line on spending and look to public safety to cut costs.

“The rest of the pie available for trimming (outside public-safety costs) is relatively small,” County Finance Director Paul McDonnell told supervisors.

Supervisor Marion Ashley said he’d be willing to live with $150 million in reserves if a plan was in place to replenish reserves to the board standard within five years. And he called for a new budgeting approach that bases spending decisions on performance measurements, a philosophy favored by County Executive Officer Jay Orr.

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