On Nov. 17, Riverside County Executive Officer Jay Orr presented to the Board of Supervisors the condition of the county’s budget for fiscal 2015-16 after the first quarter ended Sept. 30.
While he said this year’s budget was on target for both expenses and revenue, the future is treacherous. Projected increases, some known and some new, will stretch the county’s capability.
“If we remain on our current projectory, we will have increasing difficulty achieving balanced budgets and delivering appropriate mandated services,” Orr announced as he began his summary for the board.
Later, new Fiscal Director Paul McDonald made the point more dramatically. “The challenge is next year and beyond …,” he said. “Cutting all the general government from the discretionary budget would not be sufficient to meet these increased funding needs.”
In his report to the board, Orr said “… public safety costs will outpace available revenue if they continue unabated.” To the board, he added, “We need to look at all services, whether headed by appointed or elected departments, and determine the correct appropriation for the services rendered.”
Since the recession of 2008, some county agencies have incurred budget cuts of 45 percent or more, according to Orr.
Exacerbating the county’s ability to fund future services are several large but unfunded projects or programs. For example, fully staffing the new East County Detention Center beginning in 2017 will require $50 million over two years, according to McDonald.
And county jail inmates recently won a lawsuit requiring the county to improve medical care delivered to the inmates. Orr and county staff estimate this will cost about $40 million.
These incremental costs will exceed $100 million, which is more than the county’s general government funding.
Orr did acknowledge that several studies of the county’s public-safety programs and costs should be completed and available for review early in 2016 and may provide recommendations to help with future funding demands.
Relying on these reports, Orr recommended that all stakeholders recognize “that public-safety expenditures and other assumption have to be moderated.” For example, he will recommend a phased implementation of staffing for the ECDC.
The board unanimously accepted the first quarter report and asked Orr to provide more specific recommendations during the mid-year review next year.