Board finalizes fiscal year expense plan, sheriff and D.A. face deficits

RIVERSIDE – A divided Board of Supervisors formally adopted a 2016-17 appropriations plan that leaves multimillion-dollar deficits in the budgets of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office, though board members and public safety officials pledged to work together to close the gaps.

“It’s a real tight spot, but we have to bear with it and make this (spending plan) work,” Supervisor Marion Ashley said. “Ideally, we can improve things over time.”

Ashley joined board Chairman John Benoit and Supervisor John Tavaglione in approving the 2016-17 outlays. Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington voted in opposition, based on their concerns that insufficient funds were being allocated to sheriff’s operations, leaving a $20 million deficit that may result in cuts to the patrol force in unincorporated areas.

“We need to find some funds today and request that they be spent on patrol services,” Jeffries said during the Sept. 27 meeting. “I’m not going to authorize cutting unincorporated patrols. This may be our one and only shot to prevent that.”

Undersheriff Bill DiYorio told the board that without more funding, the “status quo” in patrol personnel could not be maintained through the end of the fiscal year in June. DiYorio said the department is under stress trying to meet terms of a federal lawsuit settled earlier this year concerning detention health services.

That suit, brought by the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office, alleged that inmates with psychological and physical ailments had not received adequate care, violating their constitutional rights.

Without admitting wrongdoing, the county entered into a consent decree under which it must dramatically increase staffing in correctional facilities to ensure that inmates’ health needs are met. Initial estimated costs to abide by the lawsuit’s terms were $40 million a year.

DiYorio said Sheriff Stan Sniff had been relying on attrition in the ranks to save money, but that wouldn’t be enough to cover the bulk of new expenses. The sheriff was able to set aside $14 million from the last fiscal year, with half that amount retained for contingencies. However, the other $7 million went back to the general fund, according to county Chief Financial Officer Paul McDonnell.

Jeffries and Washington wanted the money returned to the sheriff, expressly to preserve unincorporated patrol staffing.

“I cannot accept a reduction in service for public safety,” Washington said. “We need more deputies on patrol, not less.”

Ashley, Benoit and Tavaglione countered that upsetting the current appropriations formula would compromise the fiscal discipline that the board needs to keep other agencies whole over the next nine months. Non-public safety
agencies have had their appropriations cut by double-digit percentages since the Great Recession.

Ashley, Benoit and Tavaglione pointed to the anticipated cumulative cost-savings from the “efficiencies” identified by a professional services firm, Netherlands-based KPMG, as a potential game-changer in budgeting. KPMG was hired in March, at a cost of $18 million, to work with public safety agencies in implementing a series of improvements that are projected by the firm to save the county millions of dollars annually.

“KPMG is going to help us do more with less,” Benoit said. “We’re going to be less duplicative across all departments, and there will be significant additional savings. We’re going to need it – every dime. There is no excess money on the table (this fiscal year).”

Ashley encouraged DiYorio to “fluff up the patrols as best you can.”

“We have to keep our eye on the ball and see what the efficiencies are in real time,” the supervisor said.

District Attorney Mike Hestrin, who in July locked horns with several board members over a $12 million hole in the D.A.’s budget that he wanted offset, assumed a conciliatory posture, after Tavaglione and Benoit signaled a desire to help the county’s top prosecutor overcome budget challenges.

The board approved an additional $5 million for the District Attorney’s Office, and Hestrin stated he believed the remaining red ink was now closer to $4 million, rather than $7 million.

“We’re working with the (Executive Office) to get the number to zero,” Hestrin said. “We’re instituting efficiencies recommended by KPMG, and we are seeing some productive results.”

The county’s $5.43 billion spending plan for 2016-17 is slightly above last year’s, but the county will still have to spend $53 million in reserves to meet baseline obligations, according to the Executive Office.

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