While the Riverside County Board of Supervisors was pleased with the early report of budget conditions for the next five years, it also realized that tough decisions still will be required in the following months.

County Executive Officer George Johnson told the supervisors last week he wanted to give them an early indication of the fiscal conditions and challenges facing Riverside County.

The county is back on course to restore its reserves and achieve the goal of  reserves equal to 25 percent of the operating budget or a minimum of $150 million. However, the board will again have to face public-safety departments requesting funding greater than the current year.

The preliminary estimates for the current year (2017-18) show revenues will be about $6 million less than projected, but departmental costs will be $8.3 million less than budgeted.

Overall, the county will end the year with about $160 million in reserves. Revenues are currently projected to grow $26 million next year. This could increase reserves to slightly more than $200 million next year. However, this result does not include decisions about major budget requests.

Fiscal Officer Don Kent discussed requests totaling nearly $50 million, which were above the initial budget guidance to the sheriff, district attorney and hospital.

“Salaries, wages, benefits, healthcare and pension costs are still looming,” said Supervisor Kevin Jeffries (1st District). “There are a ton of other decisions.”

But he was not alone in his concern that the future budgets will be rosy. Supervisor Marion Ashley (5th District) expressed optimism and caution.

“Our multi-prong fiscal policy is starting to work,” he noted “We’re starting to build reserves up, but it will only work if we make these cuts.

“We’ll have to address these issues in the next few months. Whatever actions we take now are almost setting the budget for the next five years. We’re almost setting our five-year budget in the next few months,” he stated, and noted that the fiscal year 2018-19 budget is likely to exceed $800 million — the first time since 2008.

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