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Riverside County

Sheriff: We're At 'Bare Bones' Level in Some Locations

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Riverside County, CA -

Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff told the Board of Supervisors today that without increased appropriations in the next fiscal year, staffing levels in unincorporated areas of the county will be ``down to the nubs.''

``We're going to be very bare bones,'' Sniff said at the outset of the board's first hearing on the proposed 2017-18 fiscal year budget. ``We're
downsizing our staff to meet the budget target.'' Sniff asserted that to reach fiscal balance in 2017-18, his total appropriations level would have to be $712.3 million. The county Executive Office is recommending $50 million less than that. 
``More work needs to be done to close the sheriff's gap,'' county Chief Financial Officer Paul McDonnell told the board.

Sniff argued that he and his staff had been working to balance the agency's books, but internal service charges, including payroll administration, mounting costs associated with a consent decree that went into effect last year mandating reforms throughout the county's correctional system and overtime costs were straining resources.

According to the sheriff, attrition has both hurt and helped financial management. While not filling vacancies from retirements or transfers has
created cost saving opportunities, it has also put more pressure on existing personnel, who are logging extra hours to make up the difference, he said.

Sniff said he had dissolved the Cold Case Homicide Team, cut staff dedicated to auto theft and off-road details and permitted patrol operations in the unincorporated communities to wither. Without at least $30 million in additional funds, unincorporated patrol staffing would slip back to a ratio of .75 deputies per 1,000 residents by the end of summer. Prior to the Great Recession, the ratio was 1.2 per 1,000. 

``We're in a bit of a box,'' the sheriff said. ``We're down to the nubs.'' He said that without increased outlays, the department will have no
choice but to partially or fully close stations or other facilities and shift personnel accordingly to conserve funds.

To date, according to Sniff, the department has realized few returns from the public safety overhaul initiated last year under the board's $21
million contract with professional services firm KPMG, whose representatives last week boasted of more than $40 million in savings from operational improvements that they had ferreted out in public safety agencies.

District Attorney Mike Hestrin told the supervisors that his deficit at the end of the current fiscal year will come to $3.2 million, and by the end of 2017-18, the D.A.'s office will be about $11.5 million in the red. However, the figure is expected to be smaller if the board follows a recommendation from the Executive Office to exempt the agency from a 6.5 percent cut that was imposed throughout county government as part of the budget-drafting process. ``I don't like running a deficit,'' Hestrin said. ``It's a stressful time from top to bottom.''

He said that caseloads are increasing and staff is shrinking as a result of attrition. The District Attorney's Office is down to 679 full-time positions, compared to 703 last August, according to the budget report.

Fire Chief John Hawkins did not request additional funding, acknowledging that most of his budget challenges were ironed out in April, when supervisors agreed to partially backfill the fire department's spending gap, with a promise from Hawkins that internal adjustments would restore fiscal balance. The department has 1,050 full-time firefighters staffing 92 stations countywide.

As a result of pay hikes granted under a Cal Fire collective bargaining agreement and various service charges, the fire department's total appropriations will swell in 2017-18 from $280 million to $312 million.

Public Defender Steve Harmon expressed thanks to the Executive Office for recommending that his agency, like the D.A.'s office, be spared the 6.5 percent cut, which would've translated to a projected deficit of more than $4 million in 2017-18.

``The exemption is crucial for us to survive,'' Harmon told the board, adding that he could live with the remaining $1.6 million shortfall still on
the agency's books.

Supervisors will hear from general services agencies for the remainder of the day and probably Tuesday afternoon, following the regular board meeting. The total proposed budget for 2017-18 is $5.45 billion, about 2 percent smaller than the one enacted for the current fiscal year -- $5.57 billion.

``It will be difficult for many departments to maintain existing service levels while absorbing reduced support,'' county Chief Executive Officer
George Johnson wrote in an introduction to the 850-page budget report. ``We should all recognize that any such reductions are the logical consequence of making hard choices about our priorities.''

Johnson pointed out that the 6.5 percent across-the-board reductions throughout county government were initially implemented in anticipation of a $42 million jump in costs tied to Gov. Jerry Brown's original plan to shift the bulk of In-Home Supportive Services expenditures from the state to localities. However, the governor backed off of the idea, opting instead to impose a modest increase in counties' cost-sharing.

According to McDonnell, agency-by-agency cuts are still needed to build up the county's depleted reserve pool, now about $180 million, and boost available revenue to sustain capital improvement projects, the largest being the $333.35 million John Benoit Detention Center in Indio.

More than half of the 600,000-square-foot facility will be operational by next summer and will eventually provide space for more than 1,600 inmates, compared to only 353 in the existing Indio Jail.

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