Last week, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors couldn’t agree on how to approach, and the extent of its own involvement in, the annual budget process. The culprit, according to the majority, is the Brown Act.

Facing another budget deficit, during its previous meeting, the board agreed to spend $18 million on a consultant to review its budget from top to bottom. But funds for public involvement in board reviews was considered too expensive.

Supervisor Kevin Jeffries (1st District) proposed that the board create four standing budget committees to improve the supervisors’ involvement and understanding of the overall budget process.

As he began his argument for the proposal, Jeffries posted a Press-Enterprise story with the headline, “Budget issues await supers.”

“This headline was three-and-half years ago. Budget problems are a problem every year I’ve been on the board,” Jeffries said, stressing the need for the supervisors to invest more oversight in the budget work.

The four subcommittees would address the criminal justice and public safety agencies, general government, health and human services agencies, and public works.

However, a majority of the board, along with County Executive Officer Jay Orr and General Counsel Gregory Priamos, felt this would be creating a cumbersome, intrusive new bureaucracy that would only add to the county’s expenses.

On a 4-1 vote, with Jeffries opposed, the board referred the idea to Orr and Chair John Benoit (4th District) to review and explore less expensive and less intrusive alternatives but still enhance the board’s knowledge and involvement with the county budget. They were asked to bring a report back to the board by September, when work on the fiscal 2017-18 budget will begin.

“This is a very important area and we need to spend more time on it,” Benoit told Jeffries.

Jeffries was dismayed that his colleagues essentially did not want to get involved and amazed that they blamed the Brown Act, the state’s open government law.

“I knew it would be difficult with the CEO opposed,” he stated. “I’m surprised the discussion is about not spending money to support Brown Act compliance. We just approved $18 million for an external firm to do our job. How are we to gain control of ongoing budget deficits? … This needs to be done in public, in compliance with the Brown Act, and with open discussions.”

But Benoit, Ashley and Supervisor John Tavaglione were adamant that the creation of these subcommittees would be costly and bureaucratic without helping the board take responsibility for the county budget.

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 to litigation over inmate health and mental health care.

Last month, the board agreed to spend $18 million for KPMG, a consulting firm, to assess the county’s criminal justice agencies — Sheriff, District Attorney, Probation and Public Defender — as well as an evaluation of the other county departments.