County balances budget again with reserves: Caution urged in order to restore balanced budget

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At its June 28 meeting, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved a tentative budget for fiscal year 2016-17. The preliminary budget with these changes will return to the board at its July 26 session.

But no adjustments will change the austere outlook for this year and next year. County officials are struggling to preserve the fiscal reserves, currently at about $180 million.

“We have more requests for funding than resources available,” said Paul McDonnell, finance director.

The recommended budget is $807 million, while revenues are projected to be $757 million, requiring $50 million from reserves. The supervisors seem willing to accept this result, but want to maintain the total level at $150 million or more going forward.

To accomplish this stringency, the county will have to impose a partial hiring freeze, for example. Reserves are expected to begin growing again by fiscal year 2018-19 year and to exceed $200 million within a year or two of then.

Although Supv. John Tavaglione (2nd District) voted against the budget plan, it was approved 4-1. Supv. Kevin Jeffries (1st District) remains skeptical of the county’s ability to live within these stringencies for more than a year.

“I’m not as optimistic that the plan we’re on is sustainable and is going to work,” he shared with his colleagues. “I really don’t see us holding the line for the next four fiscal years and not increasing aggregate spending.”

Jeffries asked if the board was willing to cut the public safety budget requests. In response, Supv. Marion Ashley (5th District) continued to advocate that the private consultants reviewing the public-safety agencies’ requests will ultimately find savings and efficiencies that will yield significant budget savings.

However, Supv. Chuck Washington (3rd District) shared Jeffries worries. “I’m really concerned if I see a decline in public safety, especially in the unincorporated areas. My areas can not tolerate any reduction in the effort to push back against crime.”

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