Supervisors hear department heads: Revenues trailing budget requests

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The Riverside County Board of Supervisors spent more than a day listening to department heads discuss their needs for the 2016-17 budget, which begins Friday, July 1.

County Executive Jay Orr has recommended that the board approve a tentative budget and then make final decisions at its July 26 session.

For several months, Orr and Paul McDonnell, the county’s chief finance officer, have been advising the board that projected revenues and budget requests are misaligned. They have urged the board to limit any budget increases because reserves will be needed to balance the budget.

As the county began to formulate the 2016-17 budget, agency requests were about $130 million more than the current-year (2015-16) budget. In an effort to protect the county’s finances, Orr has urged the board to keep funding level with this year, including for public-safety agencies.

Nevertheless, he organized the workshop for Monday, June 20, so that agency heads could make a case for more funding.

Opening the workshop, McDonnell told the board that revenue and spending recovery may be a couple of years in the future. Fiscal year 2017-18 would be the low point and reserves could fall, depending upon how much new spending is approved, to about $115 million compared to more than $200 million currently.

“Going forward, unless we see a dramatic growth in revenue, which no one is expecting at this point, we’re still going to maintain spending at this level in order to re-build reserves and reach a structural balance,” McDonnell recommended.

Supervisor Marion Ashley (5th District) is concerned for the county’s ability to provide services if an economic disruption occurred and reserves were too low. He had previously objected to reducing reserves below $200 million, but last week, Ashley recommended an alternative policy.

“I’m willing to come off my previous position of maintaining reserves at 25 percent of general-fund revenues, which is in the range of $187 to $200 million, provided reserves are maintained at $150 million or more,” he said at the beginning of the workshop. “And [I want] a budget plan put in place that would replenish the reserves back to the policy level within five years.”

Later, Supervisor Kevin Jeffries (1st District) expressed his concerns that the county would be able to hold spending levels for the time necessary to restore the reserves.

Both he and Ashley encouraged Orr and McDonnell to change the county’s budgeting process. “We need to strike out on a new course,” Ashley recommended. “The new goal should be a metric-driven system relying on performance measures in budgeting.”

While the supervisors and the county’s Executive Office focused on limiting spending and enduring several very tight budgets going forward, President John Benoit pointed out the county’s full-time staffing level has increased from 18,000 to 22,840 currently. “Wow, that’s huge,” he commented.

During the presentations, Sheriff Stan Sniff emphasized to the board that nearly 90 percent of the department’s $700-million budget, half of which is county funds, is for salaries and benefits, including the county overhead charges. “The sheriff has control of about 10 percent of the budget,” he said.

His budget proposal specifically excluded any costs for staffing for the East County Detention Center being built in Indio and to be completed next year.

“I don’t need a decision in this budget, but the ECDC will be ready sometime in 2018,” he advised the board.

He also recommended the board re-consider its decision to freeze hiring, which would limit the ratio of deputies per 1,000 residents in the unincorporated areas to 1.04.

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