With little debate, the Riverside County supervisors recently approved spending $18 million in a search to save a hundred million or more.

County Executive Officer Jay Orr warned the board in January that the fiscal year 2016-17 budget, which begins July 1, would suffer from a $90- to $100-million deficit. Some of this spending is the natural progression of negotiated salary increases and continued structural problems, but $40 million is the result of a recent settlement for litigation over inmate health and mental health care.

Tuesday afternoon, the supervisors listened to Orr, County Finance Director Paul McDonnell and representatives from KPMG, the consulting firm hired to assess the county’s criminal justice agencies — Sheriff, District Attorney, Probation and Public Defender.

Orr began the session with a history lesson that started with a discretionary budget level of about $800 million 10 years ago that has fallen to about $650 million now. While the county budget has recovered, Orr said the prisoner lawsuit was the “tipping point.” The county cannot find $40 million in its budget without seriously threatening its reserves, he stated.

Unless the board took action, McDonnell asserted that the county’s reserves will likely fall 90 percent from more than $225 million to less than $25 million by the end of fiscal year 2019-20. The first step must be a cap on future spending until long-term savings and changes can be identified and implemented, he stressed.

“Capping spending is essential to getting back on the track to fiscal sustainability,” he said. “Finding savings in the public safety budget is essential.”

As departments begin preparing their 2016-17 budget, Orr and McDonnell have told them to assume no increased funding. The lone exception will be the Sheriff’s Department, whose budget will be “adjusted to the reflect the fiscal 2015-16 deficit. In addition, a balanced budget will consume $29.1 million of the county’s reserves.

Not only will KPMG begin to assess the 50 recommendations in its initial report, but Orr requested an evaluation of the other county departments, too. Implementing the criminal justice agency recommendations will cost the county $15.7 million and take about two years.

The supervisors did not hesitate nor question Orr’s recommendations. The board was supportive and hopeful of the effort. Supervisor John Tavaglione (2nd District) said, “This will change a culture. We’re going to gain efficiency and more effectiveness.”

First District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries added, “This is a long overdue, badly needed reform — reform no one ever imagined. It sets the stage of really incredible work as we go forward. It will bring the budget and reserves into balance.”

But he did question the ultimate costs, including future investments for new computer systems.