Layoffs versus salary reductions were the two sides of a debate between two Riverside County supervisors during the Board of Supervisors’ discussion of the 2011-12 budget.

“It’s the worst budget and the county’s strategy has not yielded results. We’re headed toward a lot of layoffs,” Board Chair Bob Buster (1st District) warned his colleagues. Later, he asked County Executive Bill Luna to include the option of a permanent 5-percent salary cut in the proposals Luna will bring to the board in November.

However, Supervisor John Tavaglione (2nd District) accused Buster of using his position as chairman for a bully pulpit. “I fully agree we’re in the most difficult situation I’ve seen in 17-1/2 years,” Tavaglione said to Buster. “I’m advocating we do it in a more professional and diplomatic approach to those to whom we’re responsible, not only the public, but employees.” Exasperated, Tavaglione ended his comments by saying, “This is my most disappointing day on the dais with your comments.”

Buster’s comments about salary reductions came after Luna and County Financial Officer Ed Corser told the board that the budget for fiscal year 2012-13, which does not begin until July 1, 2012, will probably be $80 million in the red before reviewing any programs. A large portion of this problem is $50 million that was funded from reserves for this year.

“We have the government that we want, the problem is we don’t have the finances to support it,” Luna admonished the board.

The board will have to decide how to fund these programs or reduce or eliminate them as part of next spring’s budget deliberations. Most of these costs were for public safety, including the Sheriff’s and fire departments and the District Attorney’s Office.

“We have to provide public safety and we only have so many dollars,” Buster lamented. “Are we going to invade these other departments, already cut to the bone, and virtually eliminate these services?”

Luna told the board that he had to closely watch this year’s budget and begin planning for next year immediately. In November, along with the report on the first quarter status, it is expected that Luna will present a package of recommendations for preparing for next year. Possible layoffs were one of the options that would help balance the future budget.

“You … asked [me] to reduce the payroll. I see that as layoffs. We have to shrink the size of the government that we have,” Luna told the board. “Our reserves are inadequate to support it.”

In response to this proposal, Buster commented, “How can we avoid not talking about reductions in compensation in the county?”

Supervisors John Benoit (4th District) and Marion Ashley (5th District) were equally dismayed with the county’s financial circumstances. Despite the contention about salary reductions, the board unanimously approved the current year’s budget. Third District Supervisor Jeff Stone was absent due to recent surgery.