At its May 11 budget workshop, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors reviewed the current budget and discussed the potential deficit projected in fiscal 2015-16, which begins July 1. The next day, it approved the rates to be charged to county cities that contract for Sheriff’s Department services.

While the fiscal problems at the county’s Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley are improving considerably and revenues are projected to grow slightly, much attention was directed to the Sheriff’s Department budget. This continued the next day when the board approved cost allocations for the cities that contract for the Sheriff’s services.

The county’s initial projection for the Sheriff’s Department is that costs will exceed the budget allocation by about $67 million. Several representatives from the contract cities addressed the board about the increasing growth of their costs compared to their revenue growth.

The expected opening of the East County Detention Center in spring 2018 will be another large increase in the sheriff’s costs. County Financial Officer Ed Corser acknowledged that these deficits were not the sheriff’s fault.

The county has continually underfunded the budget in order to alleviate significant reductions in non-public safety agencies.

Nevertheless, several supervisors were concerned about the spiraling growth of the sheriff’s costs and effect on the rest of the county’s budget and the contract cities.

“Our concern is not the quality of service, but the cost of service,” said Jesse Molina, Moreno Valley mayor. “It outpaces the city’s general revenue and no revenue is left to address other programs.”

“The [sheriff’s] service is great. We love the guys in blue,” said Steve Manos, Lake Elsinore mayor. “But it is a very simple math problem. Our revenue stream can’t keep pace with the sheriff’s contract cost.”

Sheriff Stan Sniff acknowledged the continuing growth of his department’s budget and pointed to the negotiated contracts with employee unions that saved retirement expenses, but raised salaries. While the Detention Center will be a significant increase to the budget, he argued that additional deputies for the unincorporated areas were a small increase, less than one deputy per sheriff’s station area.

The supervisors recommended an audit of the budget, including a phased approach to staffing the Detention Center.

“Two years ago, we adopted a 1.2 [ratio of sheriff’s deputies per 1,000 residents of the unincorporated areas] because of the increasing crime rate when the ratio fell to 0.75 deputies,” began Board Chair Marion Ashley (5th District supervisor).

“We can hold at the current level 1.04 deputies this year,” Ashley continued. “If the next budget year is more favorable, conditions then start to move back up to 1.2 deputies.”

Agreeing with Ashley, Supervisor John Benoit (4th District) recommended that the audit also address the additional costs imposed by implementing Proposition 47, passed in November.

“I’m hearing from my cities about the recent increase of their rates. I’ve never seen the level of angst expressed before,” he said. “[We need] an independent review or audit of the sheriff’s operation and [to] ask why his costs continue to grow.”

Supervisor John Tavaglione (2nd District) also concurred: “I agree with the 1.04 freeze that will stop the bleeding with our budget since the crime rate is down. The 1.2 is wonderful, but we just don’t have the money to continue.”

“Every year we’ve been balancing our budget and we’ll balance this year and year after,” Ashley stated. “But I won’t vote for a budget that is not balanced.”