The Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday, in principle, to make up to $7 million in additional funding available for Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff to staff the John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio, slated to open in phases beginning this summer.
The board’s 4-0 vote — with Supervisor Marion Ashley absent — did not authorize a specific allocation of funds, but did signal the supervisors’ consensus that additional appropriations before the end of the current fiscal year will be necessary.
“We’re behind in recruiting and hiring,” Undersheriff Bill DiYorio told the board. “We need the funds for the bodies.”
County Chief Executive Officer George Johnson said that, without more money, Sniff cannot proceed with sheriff’s academies to train personnel in the pipeline.
“It’s critical they get started now,” Johnson said, adding that the board will have an opportunity to figure out exactly how much funding to make available in 2017-18 when the midyear budget hearing is convened on Feb. 6.
According to the Executive Office, the sheriff needs the money to pay for about 70 positions that have yet to be filled.
It would be the first major contingency appropriation from the board this fiscal year, but with only a limited number of personnel available to transfer over from the existing Indio Jail, the allocation appears unavoidable, Executive Office staff said.
The first phase of the new detention center will be completed this summer, making 388 jail beds available.
“Due to the size and design of the Benoit Detention Center, additional positions are needed to provide a safe and secure environment for the staff and inmates housed within the facility,” according to a statement posted to the board’s policy agenda.
The $333 million jail has been under construction since mid-2015, after repeated delays stemming from county budgetary challenges and state-mandated reviews.
The design calls for a 1,600-bed facility to be built in several phases. County officials said the money isn’t available to open the entire detention center at once.
The existing Indio Jail contains 353 inmate beds and will be razed after the new detention center, touted as a technological marvel, becomes fully operational.
Along with correctional personnel, cooks, custodians, dieticians, accountants and medical professionals will be needed to staff the facility, which will be situated at Oasis Street and Highway 111.
According to the Executive Office, the county is effectively under a hiring freeze to help address a structural budget deficit that has plagued the books for years. Most of the gap is attributed collectively to public safety agencies, though a sizable share is also associated with the Riverside
University Medical Center in Moreno Valley.
Staff are forecasting a composite $24 million deficit at the end of the current fiscal year.
County reserves now stand at $155 million. However, according to the Executive Office, at the current pace, if the county is saddled with an increasing number of state-mandated costs for social services, reserves could be whittled down to $8 million by 2020-21.
The supervisors generally agree that a depletion of that magnitude is unacceptable due to the impact to the county’s credit rating, and therefore, borrowing capacity. What’s more, it would undermine the board’s ability to cover emergency expenses as and when they arise.
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