County consultant confident of continuing budget savings from criminal justice agencies

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The consultant hired 18 months ago to help Riverside County gain control of its spiraling budget (projected initial deficits of $40 million) reported to the Board of Supervisors last week. And while KPMG has been working with many agencies and especially the county’s internal costs, its major focus has been criminal-justice agencies, which consume nearly three-quarters of the discretionary income.

In his introduction, new County Executive Officer George Johnson, said “[KPMG] is to help us look at a county transformation and modernize our operations, look for efficiencies and effectiveness, and try to get our costs more in line with recurring revenues so we become more sustainable, more data-driven and more cost-conscious.”

The criminal-justice agencies,  the topic of the June 13 report, are the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney, the Public Defender and the Probation offices. The sheriff’s budget, which receives more than $650 annually from county revenues, is by far the largest of the four agencies.

For the coming fiscal year, the sheriff’s budget is likely to be $30 million less than the current fiscal year and nearly $60 million less than the initial request,  according to Paul MacDonald, county chief financial officer.

“We are deep into the KPMG study and are confident we should be able to achieve these reductions in funding without compromising current operations,” he told the board.

But a statement from the Sheriff’s Department after the meeting stressed that these savings were achieved through difficult staffing reductions, not streamlined or modified operations.

“But that savings was created this year by sharply reducing the number of staff on the payroll through personnel attrition of our unincorporated patrol staffing levels, and our countywide regional teams/task forces, to meet those board-directed budget target reductions,” the statement stated. “KPMG played no role in that particular $40 million ‘cost-savings,’ and emergency first-responder staffing levels in our countywide unincorporated areas are increasingly ‘thin’ and will bottom out this summer, accompanied by obvious decreased patrol-unit visibility and longer response times to calls for service by our citizens.”

Ian McPherson, the KPMG principal overseeing the work with Riverside County, touted the efforts of the four local agencies. He mentioned several pilot studies begun or planned for later this year.

One study with the Sheriff’s Department Hemet Station began two weeks ago, and McPherson said “… the initial indication is very positive.”

Jessica Gore, legislative assistant to Sheriff Stan Sniff, acknowledged the field tests, but added that no savings or improved efficiencies have been demonstrated to the department at this early point.

KPMG staff plan to identify future budget savings and how these can be sustained in future years. McPherson said that in July they will provide a report on the work and results of their work with other county agencies, especially the Planning Department.

Board Chair John Tavaglione was pleased with the progress and optimistic that the final results will yield significant budget savings and improved customer service throughout the county.

“Culture change is very difficult,” he noted and thanked the staff of these agencies for their cooperation and efforts to achieve improvements.

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