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Riverside County Supervisors Approve Budget With Massive Cuts

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors today approved a $4.71 billion budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year that incorporates across-the-board spending cuts to close a $133 million deficit.

“We’re showing the shareholders of this county, the residents, that we’re using their money wisely,” Supervisor Jeff Stone said before the 5-0 vote to put the budget in place.

“The county is doing a terrific job doing realistic assessments,” added Supervisor John Benoit.

The former state senator distinguished between the county’s budget- drafting process and the state’s, saying the county’s effort had been “open and transparent.”

The new budget is based on a series of impact hearings with county department heads, board discussions and meetings with public employee bargaining units beginning last fall.

Cuts in general fund support will average 19 percent for most county departments, with the exception of public safety agencies, which are absorbing reductions that average 4 percent.

The county is tapping $62 million in reserves and slashing expenditures by $71 million to close the structural budget deficit. Service and payroll reductions will eventually lead to the gap being erased, county officials said.

Under a two-year cost-cutting plan that began in 2008, the county has reduced spending by 15 percent, according to the Executive Office. The new fiscal year budget is about 11 percent smaller than the 2009-10 spending plan.

Through attrition, early retirements and terminations, some 1,000 county positions have been eliminated since June 2009, county officials said.

According to county Human Resources spokeswoman Stacy Beale, 72 people were downsized between June 2009 and June 2010, and 60 people have received pink slips in the last month.

Several hundred additional jobs are expected to be phased out in the coming year, according to the Executive Office.

The Department of Animal Services and the Probation Department received extra funding commitments — totaling nearly $3 million — to cover shortfalls that threatened to severely strain their operations.

County Chief Financial Officer Ed Corser attributed Animal Services’ monetary woes to the agency’s recent loss of service contracts with three cities and an operational structure that is no longer feasible.

“They need a business model,” Corser said. “We’ve kept them going with one-time money. But we need to make a change in how we deal with animal control in the future.”

The department may not have the resources to operate its new $15 million animal shelter in San Jacinto, slated for completion next month.

The county’s reserve pool is $233 million, compared to $429 million three years ago — a 45 percent drop — according to county budget director Rob Rockwell.

Discretionary revenue is predicted to drop 3 percent this year to $592 million, from $620 million in 2009-10.

The budget blueprint points out that California’s financial quagmire could foil the county’s financial plans. The state is facing a $19.1 billion budget gap, and there’s no spending plan in sight, county officials noted.

Supervisor John Tavaglione said the county should be prepared for state withholding.

“That’s even more reason to tighten our belts,” he said.

Almost a third of the county’s appropriations are “pass-through” funds from the state, according to budget documents. Rockwell said the biggest concern is the funding dedicated to social services.

Executive Officer Bill Luna said department heads need to “keep expenses down.”

Budget updates and new funding requests will be heard on a quarterly basis.

The county budget reflects mostly anticipated funds from multiple sources, including property taxes, the state and federal governments, service fees, and permits and licenses.

The county budget reflects mostly anticipated funds from multiple sources, including property taxes, the state and federal governments, service fees, and permits and licenses.

KESQ News Team

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