Riverside County Executive Officer Jay Orr presented his dismal projections and tough budget recommendations for fiscal year 2016-17, which begins July 1, to the Board of Supervisors last week.
Besides stressing the county’s expected costs will be significantly greater than its revenues, Orr urged the board to maintain the county’s reserve levels at a minimum of $100 million. That will require limiting new hiring for all departments, including public safety, he said.
Before any debate about priorities began, Supv. Marian Ashley (5th District) addressed the burgeoning deficit and then offered a 16-point plan to his colleagues.
The possible money-saving suggestions ranged from small amounts to draconian actions, such as furloughs and four-day workweeks
“Unless a different direction is taken today, we will not be able to maintain or sustain that prudent General Fund Reserve or have any chance to achieve financial security and success or provide for public safety,” Ashley stated to his colleagues. “ … I will not condone or support drawdown on General Fund reserves or actions that result in spending more funds than we take in each fiscal year, including one-time monies. We need to achieve sustainability.
“I believe it vital and necessary to consider the following recommendations and other possible actions at that time or the board will have little or no chance to achieve balanced budgets in fiscal 2016-17 and beyond,” he averred to his fellow supervisors. “I recommend the following 16-point plan for achieving the goal of operating within our means, spending less each fiscal year than revenue received, while maintaining General Fund reserves at a minimum of $200 million during the two-and-one-half years.”
Ashley asked Orr to have his staff analyze the 16 options and bring this back to the board at its March 29 meeting, when Orr plans to present the results of the consultant’s review of the pubic-safety budgets.
Among Ashley’s recommendations were a hiring freeze until July 2018 for the entire county, including the public-safety agencies. He made an exception for the county to hire staff to comply with settlement regarding inmate health care.
He also opposed any new labor contracts with salary increases for the next two years. Another recommendation was to reduce the Community Improvement Designation funding by $50,000 per district. During the board’s discussion, Supv. John Tavaglione (2nd District) agreed and raised the ante to $100,000 reduction per district.
After Ashley finished, Tavaglione offered his full support to Ashley’s ideas.
Third District Supv. Chuck Washington more cautiously endorsed Ashley’s plan. While he strongly objects to the budget deficits, Washington warned, “It appears to me … the burden of balancing our budget comes at the expense of our employees.”
He argued that savings could be generated from improving county operations. “If we’re looking for ways to reduce costs of doing business, we have to include a component that looks at our business model and how we operate.”
He also offered to reduce his salary and agreed with the proposal to reduce CID funding. Then he added, “Globally speaking, I agree with you, we can’t continue on this path.”
The board unanimously asked Orr to review and evaluate Ashley’s recommendations for the March meeting.
“It’s an opportunity for the Board of Supervisors to look at our core functions, “ Orr said as the discussion was ending. “We can distinguish between what we are mandated to do, that which we need to do and that which is nice to do. Are we efficient and are we effective?”
Making the budget presentation was Paul McDonnell, the county’s chief financial officer. He assured the board that the current year, 2015-16, did not present any significant problems. “… necessary adjustments appear to be manageable,” he began.
However, he quickly served noticed to the abysmal future the supervisors will have to oversee. “Fiscal 16-17 presents major challenges due to the significantly increased costs of inmate care.”
To survive this fiscal calamity, McDonnell told the board, “Managing public-safety spending is the key because it is the largest component of our budget.”
Ashley and Tavaglione were optimistic that the consultant’s reports would recommend significant savings through improved management efficiencies in the pubic-safety budgets.