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Sheriff, county hospital facing multimillion-dollar deficit

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - The Board of Supervisors next week will begin the process of figuring out how to address multimillion-dollar deficits confronting the sheriff's department and the county hospital while balancing other county agencies' needs.

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

"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 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.

According to budget workshop documents, 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 worried 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 grants.

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 required 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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