Riverside County Executive Officer George Johnson advised, perhaps warned, the Board of Supervisors about growing demands on the county’s fiscal resources. At the Feb. 5 board meeting, Johnson and Chief Financial Officer Don Kent presented the mid-year review for fiscal year 2018-19.
First, they described several added costs that were already expended and, therefore, had to be funded in the budget. Examples include more funds for general assistance in the Department of Public Social Services, additional costs the county incurred during and after the Cranston and Holy fires. These total about $1.9 million and may be reimbursed from federal or state agencies, but the funds won’t come until future years.
In total, the board approved another $12.9 million for programs and maintained the budget contingency account at $20 million.
Johnson then advised the board that another $20 million would likely be needed before the end of the fiscal year (June 30). This will help the Riverside University Health System, the District Attorney’s Office and supplement ($300,000) the Public Defender’s Office.
Actually, these adjustments are a harbinger of future budget issues. Although revenues have been increasing, Kent noted that property taxes have averaged a 5-percent growth for several years. However, Johnson averred that softening the economy is inevitable in the next few years.
Whenever that may occur, Kent described another $350 million already planned for budgets from fiscal years 2019-20 through 2022-23, the next four years.
“The board understands the cost pressures this county is facing and the significant fiscal challenges ongoing that we must address and continue to address,” Johnson said. He then began a summary of future planned and unplanned budget requirements.
The largest is the operational costs for the John J. Benoit Detention Center about to be opened in Indio. This approaches $140 million in those four years. Also, a lawsuit ensuring the inmates health care and mental health services will add another $38 million to future budgets. And the RUHS is constructing a new medical office building.
But the truly ominous prospect includes about $220 million, which is not part of future budget planning, but must be addressed. Inmate healthcare will consume more than half of this estimate. The RUHS will need funding to equip the new medical building and even the fire department is projecting future increases of more than $20 million.
Board members had few comments or questions about the budget status or forecasts. However, new Supervisor Karen Spiegel noted that the costs for the inmate healthcare and mental health services are included in the RUHS account. It was unfair to attribute the higher expenses to RUHS since it was for the county inmates.
Also, and not addressed during the mid-year review, is the county’s growing pension costs, which could be $50 million over this period.