Riverside County supervisors address multi-million dollar deficits

The first budget workshop will be held at 9 a.m. today

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Riverside County supervisors today will begin the process of figuring out how to address multi-million-dollar deficits confronting the sheriff's department and the county hospital going into the next fiscal year.

The first budget workshop focusing on appropriations for departments in
2013-14 will be held at the County Administrative Center starting around 9 a.m.

"While the county balanced the 2012-13 adopted budget, going forward,
significant risks and challenges remain," county CEO Jay Orr wrote in his
introduction to the 50-page workshop report. "Although the Executive Office
anticipates modest revenue growth long-term, beginning in 2013-14, the county
also confronts steep cost escalations."

He pointed out that labor costs will be steadily rising to meet
obligations under a half-dozen collective bargaining agreements reached in the
last two years that call for automatic across-the-board cost-of-living and
merit pay increases for employees through 2016.

The county will also be making larger contributions to the California
Public Employees Retirement System and will be dipping into the general fund to cover expenses tied to the new digital public safety radio network going live
in July, Orr noted.

The Indio East County Detention Center construction project, expected to be completed in three years, will further increase the size of the county's outlays.

Property tax receipts -- the county's primary source of discretionary
revenue -- are expected to grow around 2 or 3 percent annually over same
period, according to economists.

"Given the escalating costs and gradual revenue growth, balancing the
budget continues to require considerable restraint," Orr said.

He did not mention layoffs, though in the midyear budget report in
February, reducing payrolls was one of the options put on the table to contain
expenses. County agencies have cut more than 30 positions since July to keep
costs down, according to the Department of Human Resources.

Budget workshop documents indicated the Riverside County Regional
Medical Center in Moreno Valley will be heading into the next fiscal year with
a roughly $105 million deficit. Last month, RCRMC Director Doug Bagley
expressed confidence much of the shortfall would be covered by one-time money and improved cost-recovery from patients.

However, a disparity in the state's Medi-Cal reimbursement program
formula was expected to keep revenue below a level commensurate with services, and Bagley also worries about a state practice of intercepting federal
subsidies due to the hospital.

The county, which provides about 5 percent general fund support for the
medical center, was considering legal action.

The sheriff's department will go into 2013-14 with a $54 million deficit
at the level of appropriations anticipated in the workshop documents. The
sheriff estimated departmental revenue of $328 million and $219 million in
general fund support, compared to expenses totaling $602 million.

Since 2008, the sheriff's office, which includes not only patrol but
also coroner operations and management of the Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, has lost 300 positions through attrition.

The supervisors have each expressed a strong desire to maintain the
agency's effectiveness, increasing the number of deputies on patrol and
staffing jails. The sheriff is seeking a 20 percent increase in general fund
commitments compared to four years ago. About a third of the sheriff's budget
is made up of county revenue; the rest is generated through contract fees and

On paper, both the District Attorney's Office and the Fire Department
were showing balanced budgets going into the next fiscal year. The D.A. said he
would require 9 percent less in general fund commitments compared to 2008,
while the fire chief was seeking 27 percent more in appropriations.

The 2013-14 fiscal year begins July 1.

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