RIVERSIDE – A hearing Tuesday, Feb. 6, on spending in the current fiscal year and the prospect of future deficits turned into a platform for Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione to belittle the leadership of Sheriff Stan Sniff, who was not present, suggesting that the veteran lawman was incapable of making the sheriff’s department a “more efficient” agency.
“Our elected sheriff is living in the 20th century,” Tavaglione said. “He is unable to manage his organization in an effective way. The sheriff is sitting back, like a child, and continues to demand more funds that we don’t have. We keep telling him that, over and over like a broken record. It’s the damn truth.”
Sniff did not immediately respond to City News Service’s request for comment.
Tavaglione became angry when Supervisor Kevin Jeffries began questioning the actual size and breadth of anticipated spending increases in the 2018-2019 fiscal year and beyond. Jeffries expressed concern that the executive office was not fully detailing how pension costs, inmate health care expenses and a bevy of other obligations, in total, would impact the county’s financial stability.
The questions were raised as Chief Financial Officer Don Kent presented a rough overview of the county’s financial strengths and weaknesses in 2017-2018 in the midyear budget report. As is routinely the case, public safety operations were cited as the most exposed to red ink.
“Our biggest challenge is the sheriff’s department,” Jeffries said. “The board and sheriff are going to have to agree on a floor (for cuts to staffing.) We’re going to have to reach a consensus because we’re on a path now that’s not working for anybody.”
The sheriff began 2017-2018 nearly $30 million in the hole. Sniff and his staff told the executive office they’re trying to contain costs through attrition – or not replacing personnel when they retire, resign or are dismissed. However, that’s leaving fewer deputies for patrol operations, mainly in unincorporated communities, and existing personnel are incurring high amounts of overtime taking up the slack, according to the sheriff.
The midyear report noted the sheriff’s strong desire to end “further degradation in staffing levels” and seek “appropriate funding to repair damage to the public safety net that has already taken place.”
Last month, Sniff dismissed the work of professional services firm KPMG, which was retained by the county at a cost of $40 million to net out efficiencies and achieve lower costs in multiple agencies, but particularly public safety. A memo released by the sheriff’s department characterized KPMG’s revised patrol schedules and response protocols at the sheriff’s Hemet station as “a failed test model, less effective and more costly.”
The executive office replied that the KPMG project had proved its worth and was destined to be expanded.
Tavaglione has been an outspoken proponent of KPMG’s work. He has also endorsed one of Sniff’s opponents in this year’s election – former Hemet police Chief Dave Brown.
“We’ve hired top-notch people to help you find efficiencies,” Tavaglione said, eyeing sheriff’s executive staff sitting in the board chamber. “Who in the hell wouldn’t want to be more efficient? You’re not going to change decades of culture internally. I would tell the sheriff, ‘Stop sitting on your hands and acting like a child.’ The sheriff fails to take responsibility for his department. Man up and make good decisions for your department. This is a very, very sad situation.”
According to the executive office, the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices are also seeking to shrink multimillion-dollar structural spending gaps, while additional cost pressures are building for the Riverside University Health System and the Department of Probation.
District Attorney Mike Hestrin is working to contain a $4.7 million deficit. He said changes in state law, including Propositions 63 and 64, are chewing up staff time and extending workloads, without commensurate funding from the state. Proposition 63 was a gun-control measure that imposed restrictions on ammunition purchases and some firearms components. Proposition 64 legalized adult use of marijuana.
Public Defender Steve Harmon has a $1.5 million shortfall and is holding off on adding “mission-important positions” until it’s known whether more money may be available.
The Riverside University Health System, the centerpiece of which is the county hospital in Moreno Valley, is staring into a $15 million hole in the current fiscal year. According to officials, the hospital is not receiving adequate federal and state reimbursements for indigent care, and detention health care costs – the treatment of inmates – are an increasing burden.
The county is under a federal consent decree to improve physical and psychological health services at a cost of about $44 million a year.
The executive office raised the prospect of a budgetary shortfall in the department of probation, which has managed to solve financial problems through attrition in recent years.
Kent offered a ballpark estimate of nearly $100 million in general additional expenses for the county going into 2018-2019.
One of the bright spots in the budget report included a $27 million cash carry-over from the 2016-2017 fiscal year that will reduce the claim on reserves, which should end 2017-2018 above $180 million. The board’s mandated floor is $150 million.
Officials said a “targeted” hiring freeze remains in effect for most departments, requiring agency heads to seek executive office approval before trying to add staff.