Board split on urgency to address deficits

The budget problems hanging over Riverside County are not disconcerting the board. County Executive Officer Jay Orr told the supervisors in his presentation last week, “This is not the time to panic.”

At the close of the 90-minute budget review, President John Tavaglione (2nd District) repeated Orr’s admonition: “We don’t want to panic, but in the hallways we hear it. We’ve been through this before … we’ll make it work.”

Nevertheless, Orr painted a bleak picture for the next couple of fiscal years. His staff feels revenue may be as much as $8 million below initial estimates, the Fire Department’s costs will increase because of the new labor contract and the In-Home Supportive Services costs (nearly $45 million) will be shifted from the state to the county.

“The year-to-date results indicate revenues are trending down,” said Paul MacDonald, finance officer. “But there is greater concern about substantial cost increases in future years coming from Sacramento … Balancing the fiscal year 2017-18 budget without substantial costs will be challenging.”

Yet, Orr did not recommend any adjustments to this year’s or the next year’s budget plans. “If the next two years are worse, why are we waiting six more months to fix it?” asked Supervisor Kevin Jeffries (1st District).

KPMG, the consultant hired two years ago to help devise budget savings and introduce more efficient procedures, is working with the county. Orr anticipates some preliminary results can be announced in the next few months. Currently, KPMG is testing an alternative staffing plan with the Sheriff’s Department. If successful, it may save the county several million dollars.

Until these types of savings become concrete, Orr is projecting significant demands on the next few budgets, which could become worse depending upon how Congress repeals or replaces the Affordable Care Act.

Orr stressed that going forward, the Executive Office needs “… everybody to row in the same boat together.” The future direction, he added, is finding new efficiencies.

For example, Orr is scheduling a discussion of alternatives for how the Fire Department will handle another $11 million needed for fiscal 2017-18.

“This calls for a discussion by the board of fire resources and how we provide fire service. These costs simply need to be absorbed,” he said. “I’ve asked fire to come back to the Executive Office with solutions and scenarios so they can be presented to the board in March.”

Other costs that shortly will confront the county are staffing to open the new East County Detention Center, which has been deferred in past budgets, and CalPERS, which has lowered its rate of investment, causing local governments to increase their contributions.

Orr warned the supervisors that applying best-management practices may create “… painful discussions. Should we contract out, should we eliminate or should we re-evaluate our commitment to a service?”

Both 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington and Jeffries were concerned about the effect these future funding changes will have on the unincorporated areas of the county.

“A very small percentage of overall population of the county will feel the worst. They are already feeling it with reduction in the Sheriff’s Department and Fire next. Chipping away at Code [Enforcement] and Animal Services can’t be far behind,” Jeffries said.

Washington’s comments also focused on the impacts to the 3rd District, including the Hill. “My constituents and I share a concern about public safety and impact to the region,” he said. “I don’t see a list with solutions to that problem. What I see in front of us is worsening of that problem. The containment of costs can’t all be on the shoulders of staffing.”