Riverside County’s impending budget problems are not diminishing. The state still has shown no willingness to alleviate the budget ramifications of shifting the In-House Support Services program back to the 57 counties. Also, growing retirement costs have not abated.
Last week, County Executive Officer Jay Orr told the board that “… projections of the growth rates of key discretionary revenues are softening.”
Meanwhile, the supervisors had to decide what their tentative plan would be to absorb the $11.9 million of added firefighter costs created by the state and Firefighter Association 2881’s recently negotiated contract.
For several weeks, the board has considered multiple options, including closing stations, altering staff responsibilities and establishing an emergency medical services fee.
At its April 18, the board accepted several recommendations from Fire Chief John Hawkins. Implementing these changes — such as eliminating one hazardous materials team (the county will still have a team), eliminating several staff positions at the Perris fire headquarters and using $2.5 million of savings generated this year — still leaves a need for about $6 million.
The board unanimously agreed to find these funds elsewhere. At this time, the board is not planning any further reductions in fire staffing, although President John Tavaglione still plans to meet with Cal Fire Chief Kim Pimlott in an attempt to secure a reduction in Sacramento’s assessment of administrative costs on the county.
As the Tuesday meeting began, Hawkins acknowledged the county’s budget troubles and the Fire Department’s contribution to the overall issue. He said, “I know and understand we need to resolve where we’re going and fire contributes to the budget shortfall.”
But as chief, to ensure public and firefighter safety, Hawkins said he could not support the recommendations that would reduce three-person staffs or to alter the municipal staffing plan.
Second District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, also a member of the Ad Hoc Fire Committee, said, “We prefer not to close the Blythe Station at this point.” At the April 11 board meeting, the supervisors were clear they had no intention of closing Station 63 in Poppet Flats either.
After the meeting, Hawkins wrote in an email, “As for the budget gap, it will be considered by the [board] at the June 2017 budget hearings, I believe. Both the Riverside County [supervisors] and the Executive Office have been extremely helpful and understanding of the need to balance public safety services and work with the extremely difficult budget gap challenge.”
Funding for the IHSS program creates a major budget problem for the county. The revenue recovery has not met expectations and the added $37 million for IHSS is a substantial budget demand. Orr estimates that without some relief from the state, this policy decision could require other county departments to accept a 6.5-percent reduction.