Approval of the final Riverside County fiscal 2016-17 budget barely passed last week. The board was divided over approving a lean budget, which still needed reserves to balance, versus more funds to maintain the current level of sheriff’s deputies in the unincorporated area.

Since County Executive Office Jay Orr began preparing the budget last winter, he has advised the board of how tight it was and the need to limit increases for the next few years.

Last fall, the board engaged KMPG, an international consulting firm, to study the public safety agencies’ budgets and submit recommendations for savings and improved service. These results are still several months away.

However, Supervisors Chuck Washington (3rd District) and Kevin Jeffries (1st District) were willing to provide more funding to the Sheriff’s Department to maintain staffing in the unincorporated areas.

“The bulk of the budget goes to public protection that leaves us little maneuvering room outside of that,” said Paul McDonnell, finance director. And he shared that the Sheriff’s Department budget for last year ended with a $14 million savings. Also, the District Attorney’s office has found savings to reduce its tentative deficit from $7 million to $4 million.

But Jeffries asked, “Is there no proposal today to promote any additional funding to the DA or to the sheriff for us to consider?”

In response, McDonnell said he and his staff would continue working with both offices and the KPMG report, which may be ready by the end of the year, should recommend some changes to generate savings in both agencies.

Second District Supv. John Tavaglione expressed support for Jeffries idea, but urged the board to wait for the final consultant recommendations. “I understand Supv. Jeffries’ concern to put more deputies back on streets, but that’s a short-term fix to a fix we’re ultimately going to achieve … it’s coming soon.”

Jeffries continued to emphasize, “…[t]hat when we adopt this budget we’re agreeing to reduce patrol levels.” He also argued that the KPMG recommendations would not be implemented until next fiscal year.

While Supv. Marion Ashley (5th District) said he would vote for the budget presented and expected improvements overtime, Washington affirmed his opposition to the proposal.

“I cannot accept a reduction in service for public safety,” he stated. “The East Hemet station is hit day-in and day-out. I need more deputies on patrol, not less.”

The budget, which Orr presented, was adopted 3-2, with Jeffries and Washington voting “no.”