Supervisors add money for Sheriff’s Department

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After a long day of budget discussion and debate, sometimes heated, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors added $7.9 million to the Sheriff’s Department budget for the current fiscal year.

After the June budget hearings, new County Executive Officer George Johnson had initially proposed adding $10 million to the sheriff’s budget. These funds would be limited to new staffing for the Indio detention Center (expected to open next summer) and support for the lawsuit providing more health care for jail inmates.

But the board, also with the CEO’s support, added another $7.9 million and removed the limitations on the $10 million. The total of $17.9 million is equivalent to the 6.5-percent reduction most county agencies incurred.

“I got what I need to correct the deterioration, to stop further decay,” said Sheriff Stan Sniff after the meeting. “I got the 6.5 percent restored, about $18 million and an opening with the Executive Office to negotiate.”

The county budget and, consequently, the board, are in a difficult predicament. The revenue for fiscal year 2017-18 is expected to increase slightly, but not enough to fund all the budget requests, especially for public safety.

The board’s overall goals include a balanced budget and maintaining, if not increasing, reserves.

As the 2017-18 budget preparation began, the county expected to have to absorb about $40 million to fund the in-home support services programs because Gov. Jerry Brown had proposed shifting them from the state to counties. To fund these programs, former CEO Jay Orr directed all agencies to cut their budgets 6.5 percent.

Once the state budget was approved in June, Riverside County knew the $40 million demand would drop to slightly less than $10 million. In June, Johnson and board had already recommended restoring the 6.5 percent cuts to the District Attorney and Public Defender’s offices.

At Tuesday’s budget hearing, Sniff spoke to the supervisors about the continuing decline in staffing, which disproportionately affects the unincorporated areas, such as the Hill. The cities, which contract with the county for police services, pay a specific amount for specific staffing levels.

When the sheriff’s budget is reduced, the flexibility is only in jail staffing and policing of the unincorporated areas.

Supervisor Marion Ashley (4th District) supported Sniff and recommended the added funding in order “to get the unincorporated patrols up to the level to do a better job than now.”

Before the vote, 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington supported the added funding and said, “If we can’t keep the streets safe and communities safe, then everything else doesn’t matter.”

The ratio of sheriff’s deputies per 1,000 residents in the unincorporated areas has fallen to almost 0.75. With the added funding, Sniff will not have to make any further staff reductions — deputies or administrative — but it will still take time to hire and train new staff, he emphasized.

The board realized that it had to use reserves to provide the added funds, but without a tax increase to raise revenues, its choices were limited.

The final vote was 4-1. First District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries was the sole opposing vote. While he wanted added funding for the Sheriff’s Department, he opposed the approval to increase the consultant’s contract $20 million, bringing the total for KPMG to more than $40 million.

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