The Riverside County budget beyond fiscal year 2017-18 appears to be in a very precarious position. Any major and unexpected budget expense may have dramatic effect on the county’s reserves.

While the Board of Supervisors is trying to protect its goal of a minimum of $150 million in reserves, county Executive Office Jay Orr and Finance Officer Don Kent told the board last week that projected costs, as well as unexpected costs, continue to threaten budget policies.

“This is just an advisory item,” Orr told the board and added that the public, unions, department heads, staff and supervisors should be aware of the county’s budget status and future.

He did not want the presentation to be an alarm, he said, “But we want you to fully understand the budget challenges facing the county.”

Just for the current fiscal year, potential added costs could approach $45 million. In fiscal year 2021-22, only four years away, added costs will be nearly $200 million.

While costs are growing at a staggering rate, the county’s revenue is not equal to the spending needed to provide just current services, according to Orr.

“The only way to cover the net county costs is to spend out of unassigned reserves,” stated President Chuck Washington of the 3rd District. “… if we don’t do something; if we continue on the path we’re on we’ll go below the $150 million level.”

First District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries urged his colleagues to schedule a workshop just to study the budget growth and prepare for the cascading deficit.

He observed that the budget forecast would prevent any department from having any increases. And the $200 million deficit is equivalent to 2,000 employees or positions that cannot be funded.

“As our county experiences growth of roughly 30,000 additional people per year, we’re incurring demands on our services,” Jeffries said. “That a pretty staggering request to ask of any department with population growth we’re experiencing or at least, trending.”

Orr told the board he has already imposed a hiring freeze countywide. Only he can grant exceptions to the freeze. Orr also has scheduled meetings with the leadership of all of the county’s labor and union organizations. He intends to discuss the budget’s condition and its dwindling stability.

He estimated that with no change, the county’s reserves could fall to $8 million within three years.

“Every day we delay savings is a day of reckoning we’re postponing,” Jeffries warned his colleagues.

Washington announced that he has planned a “Vision Workshop” for Jan. 30. “It’s an informal discussion of how we view the county going forward, better vision of what we can achieve and accomplish.”

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