Riverside County Seal

‘Steely discipline’ is called for as officials try to rein in costs and build up savings.

By Jeff Horseman / Staff Writer
Published: June 29, 2016 – Updated: 6:41 p.m.

With expenses outpacing income, departments starved for money and savings dipping to uncomfortable levels, Riverside County officials want to put county government on a strict diet.

It’s a regimen that calls for five consecutive years of essentially flat spending and tight controls on hiring, county employee travel and big-ticket purchases. But like many diets, there are questions about the ability to stay financially disciplined, especially with requests to spend more on public safety.

The plan’s details were discussed during a special county Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, June 28 on the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Supervisors could make further changes to the $5.4 billion spending plan on July 26.

Despite sustained economic growth following the Great Recession, the county continues to struggle making ends meet. While property tax revenue is growing, a series of new, ongoing expenses, such as raises guaranteed to employees in exchange for pension savings, is growing faster.

The fiscal 2016-17 budget started with a $60.9 million gap between revenue and expenses. Adding to the pressure were requests from departments for more money, including $13 million sought by the county hospital system and $2.1 million sought by the public defender’s office.

Addressing the five supervisors last week, Public Defender Steve Harmon said his office could not perform its core duties without more money. “If we can’t keep up, the whole criminal justice system will collapse,” he said.

Hospital CEO Zareh Sarrafian said the county’s financial support was still crucial as the hospital works to become more self-sufficient.

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