Two weeks ago, 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone was chosen chair of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors for 2014. He succeeds Supervisor John Benoit (4th District) as chair and this will be his second term as chair. He also served as chair in 2009.

The new vice chair is 5th District Supervisor Marion Ashley.

“Thank you very much and I consider this a tremendous honor,” he told his colleagues. “This is my second and last time, going into my 10th year on board.”

Stone was elated with the opportunity to represent the county a second time, but admitted it is a huge commitment of time. Yet one of the rewards is attending events at communities, he has only known of from the dais. As chair, he got to many of the county’s neighborhoods.

This year will again bring many challenges to the supervisors, and Stone looks forward to a busy year. He identified several issues in which the board will invest considerable time in this year.

When asked about his priorities, he had no hesitation listing several. Jail capacity was at the top of his list. The county does not have enough money for the long-term expansion of its jail capacity in the aftermath of the AB 109 realignment. Last year, the county received a $100 million state grant for jail construction. But last month, a second grant request was turned down. Stone expects the county to seek another grant this year.

Besides progress on a new jail, Stone wants to assure that improvements are implemented at the Larry D. Smith Correctional facility in Banning.

While the need for more jail capacity will continue to be on the board’s agenda for years, Stone stressed that there are also other important issues the board should address this year. “We don’t want to be known as the jail capital of California,” he said.

The board will have to address the long-term solvency of the county hospital. The Riverside County Medical Center in Moreno Valley has a cash-flow debt approaching $50 million.

Stone would like to see the center become a teaching hospital affiliated with the new University of California, Riverside, medical facility or Loma Linda University. Even expanding its ability to serve as a pediatric hospital would be important to the county, in Stone’s opinion.

Improving the county’s economic condition and ability to support residents will also be on the board’s 2014 agenda. To increase the economic diversity based here, Stone wants more attention given to the county’s foreign trade commission, which encourages export businesses. “Last year, it was responsible for billions,” Stone said. Much of this trade goes to China, South Korea and Japan, he said.

He also would like to fortify the county’s business foundation through improving the educational level of the local work force. “It’s been a hinderance to some companies,” he said.

Because new home building has stabilized, Stone is concerned that housing price escalation will push the middle class out of opportunities to call Riverside County home.

As board chair, Stone will serve the entire county — the size of New Jersey — but will still direct attention to his district, which includes Idyllwild. “This year, I hope we can work with Idyllwild on the new community center. Riverside County can help get the plan approved.”

Public safety also is an important item on the board’s agenda. “More resources need to go the Sheriff’s Department. We need more deputies on the street and hope to increase the ratio [of deputies to 1,000 residents in the unincorporated area] to 1.2,” Stone stressed.

“We’ll be looking at the new [Emergency Medical Services] contract. There are many underserved areas in Riverside County. Idyllwild will be one factor in the new EMS plan,” Stone said. “I’m concerned about people laying out extra [money] on taxes and other fees for this. I hope to halt the service inequities.

“We need the same comprehensive ambulance service [that we have] in cities and suburbs, and move into rural areas,” he explained. “I know it’s difficult because you can’t spread the cost in Idyllwild over as many as in Riverside.”

Finally, Stone plans to re-institute the Safeguard County of Riverside Against Preventable Expenses program. Beginning in April 2009, county employees suggested hundreds of ideas to save money and many were implemented during the year and after Stone’s chair term ended.

J.P. Crumrine can be reached at [email protected]