The Riverside County Board of Supervisors adopted its 2011-12 county budget, but the county’s financial problems will continue for several years, according to County Executive Bill Luna.
The county’s goal to eliminate a deficit and enact a budget that is funded by current revenues without reliance on reserves was not achieved and that goal will not be met next year either, Luna acknowledged.
“[W]e cannot achieve structural balance in two years as originally planned. We must extend our fiscal recovery plan,” Luna wrote the board. “We are facing a distressing F[iscal] Y[ear] 2012/13 budget gap of over $80 million and our first hurdle is substituting for the $51 million in one-time money proposed in the current year budget.”
Consequently, the existing reserve balance of $125 million is in jeopardy after next year unless the supervisors pare costs more or a recovery suddenly occurs.
Unfortunately, the county’s economic consultants are not optimistic that significant fiscal recovery is imminent.
“[D]ata provided in the last few weeks from our economists at California State University, Fullerton, confirm negative assessed-valuation projections over the next two years,” Luna told the board. “With state revenue receipts 10 percent ($583 million) below projections in July, the reports all suggest we should anticipate further declines in county revenue.”
With the budget hole deepening and widening, Luna has advised the board of several issues that will be on its agenda early this fall. One of the most controversial will be whether the board can accept reductions in public safety programs. For the past several years, the supervisors have worked hard to avoid closing fire stations, reducing Sheriff’s Department staffing and maintaining the District Attorney’s Office.
Unless county revenues unexpectedly start to grow, these programs may face lower funding beginning next year or the county may have to eliminate other programs to protect pubic safety, Luna lamented.
Luna plans to broach an immediate hiring freeze in all departments with the board, but acknowledges that the board rejected a hiring freeze earlier this year. The county is continuing to negotiate with labor groups to shift pension costs.
The final budget incorporated $51.5 million of additions, which were discussed in June prior to approval of the preliminary budget. These include funding for the Department of Health Services to provide medical services at the Sheriff’s Department’s correctional facilities and the county’s juvenile detention facilities, for the Fire Department to avoid closure of any stations, for the Sheriff’s Department to avoid layoffs and several other county departments.