The Riverside County Board of Supervisors has expressed its concern about the impending county budget deficit (nearly $100 million) and how the Sheriff’s Department’s budget and other criminal justice agencies’ budgets contribute to this fiscal problem.

The causes of the impending deficit are more costs to meet the terms of a settlement from a prisoner class-action lawsuit regarding inmate health and mental health care, continuing structural budget problems and pending salary increases.

In October, the county contracted with KPMG, a consulting firm, to review the budgets of these agencies. Its report was discussed at a board workshop Tuesday afternoon, March 29.

“We know clearly that the county is staring into a dangerous budget hole in the coming year,” Executive Officer Jay Orr said in a press release. “We must take decisive steps to close that gap and consider guidance from international experts.”

The County Executive Office acknowledges that the Sheriff’s Department and other criminal justice agencies are being affected from several outside influences, such as Assembly Bill 109, Proposition 47 and demands from contract cities. Nevertheless, Orr stated to the board, “… public safety expenditures have neared two-thirds of the boards’ discretionary spending authority.”

“We didn’t cause the deficit,” lamented Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff. Several of these decisions, such as the lawsuit settlement and negotiating employee salaries, are the responsibility of the executive office and board, he said.

The CEO endorsed the KPMG submission and recommended two separate actions to the board. First, he wants to extend the KPMG contract to implement the recommendations. The implementation report is estimated to cost $15.7 million and may require another two years to complete.

According to Orr’s memorandum, “Recommendations have the potential to lead to cost savings and performance enhancements to help the county … to provide future cost-savings in the 10s of millions of dollars annually …” But Orr described the recommendations as “… a high-level assessment … a roadmap.”

KPMG offered 51 recommendations, affecting the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office, the Probation Department and the Office of the Public Defender. None of them identified specific savings amount. Each was ranked on a scale of one to three, for savings, efficiency and effectiveness. Only six of the recommendations (three were for the Sheriff’s Department) were ranked one for possible savings.

Several of the recommendations with possible budget savings required the developing and implementing new computer systems. Generally, these are costly projects.

Another major possible savings involved the work-week schedule for patrol deputies and other Sheriff’s Department personnel. The existing bargaining agreement allows for four 10-hour work days per week. To shift to the regular eight-hour work day or nine days of 80 hours will require re-negotiating the contracts, Sniff stated.

Orr’s second recommendation was to use KPMG to prepare another assessment of all other county agencies for another $2.7 million.

Sniff’s assessment of the review to this point was “[KPMG] was easy to work with; but some people are expecting wholesale savings. There may be savings in out years but they’ll require massive investments.”

As KPMG continues its evaluation and county staff submits a preliminary 2016-17 budget, Orr wants to hold General Fund spending for all departments to the current levels for the next two years. He stressed that the non-public-safety programs are collectively too small to solve the problem. Next year, Orr plans to hold public safety programs to their same levels, too.