Uncontrollable increases down the road

While the discussion of the Riverside County 2017-18 budget mid-year review did not create panic nor any major cutbacks last week, new and large budget demands are on the horizon.

County Fiscal Officer Don Kent acknowledged that the current projections for fiscal year 2017-18, which ends June 30, have improved.

While several departments, such as the District Attorney and Probation, have reduced their expected deficits, the Sheriff’s Department has eliminated a projected deficit of more than $30 million and “is planning for and committed to a balanced budget in the current fiscal year” despite ongoing fiscal challenges, County Executive Officer George Johnson wrote in this “Midyear Budget Report” to the board.

Despite the bland report, Kent confirmed that several major budget problems will begin appearing in fiscal year 2018-19, which begins July 1.

These include increasing pension costs, which will begin with a $17 million increase next year. Over the next five years, pension costs are estimated to grow nearly $150 million.

Funding to continue current services for public safety agencies will require about $30 million, as well as $15 million for the Riverside University Health System. Kent also sees the possibility of insurance liability costs increasing $7.8 million next year.

Supervisor Kevin Jeffries (1st District) pointed out that the projected balances appear less threatening because the Executive Office is assuming all departments will absorb the increased pension and salary increases. In order to do that, staffing will have to be reduced.

Board Chair Chuck Washington (3rd District) immediately commented, “As supervisors, we need to share with our county team to be cautious going forward. The worse-case scenario would be significant amounts of layoffs. We don’t want to go there.”

The board will have a preliminary review of the fiscal year 2018-19 budget in early April and the third-quarter review of the current budget will be presented May 22. Johnson plans to present next year’s budget June 11.