The Board of Supervisors today reluctantly approved $1.6 million to cover losses tied to the Riverside County Fair & Date Festival, as one of several budget adjustments requested in a report on current fiscal year finances, which generally are not in dire condition.
"Overall, revenues are trending better than previously anticipated, although uncertainty remains due to COVID-19," county CEO George Johnson said in an introduction to the 50-page first quarter 2020-21 budget report presented to the board. "Supplemental property tax assumptions are coming in higher … Other notable increases are documentary transfer tax, as the county assessor reports an increase in document processing.''
The county reserve pool has been drawn down because of increased outlays directly tied to the public health emergency that began in March, according to Johnson. He said the $259 million in reserve funds with which the county began 2020-21 has been whittled down to $218 million -- still less than the board thought likely a few months ago.
Johnson added that the county's discretionary income unexpectedly rose $12 million at the close of 2019-20, though a large part of that was driven by court fines and penalties, as well as realignment revenue from the state.
The largest budget adjustment sought by the Executive Office was the $1.6 million allocation to the Fair & Date Festival in Indio, which was canceled this year due to the public health lockdowns resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. It has also been nixed for 2021.
The resultant red ink was put before the before as a clean-up item.
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries criticized the expenditure, complaining that even in typical years when the festival is in operation, it's a money-loser.
"But we have to come up with money to subsidize a large county property that can't make end's meet," Jeffries said. "We really need to figure out where we need to go with this.''
Supervisor Karen Spiegel agreed, saying the fair has been a
"great event, but it's a loss to the county."
Both Supervisors Jeff Hewitt and Chuck Washington said the event has been poorly marketed, and its location -- in the Coachella Valley -- has made it uninviting to residents in more populated areas on the western side of the county.
Washington said the Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego County fairs have been profitable because they're situated in places that draw higher traffic.
Spiegel suggested that a nonprofit take over the operation to save the county money.
Supervisor Manuel Perez, in whose district the fair is located, said he wanted to see the "long-standing tradition, going on for 75 years'' continue at the Indio Fairgrounds. However, he also agreed there's a need to change the way it's run to save the county money.
Further board discussions are expected next year.
According to the Executive Office, none of the public safety agencies are signaling year-end budget deficits -- yet.
But the Department of Animal Services continues to struggle with
"a significant reduction in revenue" stemming from service interruptions, including the operation of shelters open to the public, amid the lockdowns, according to the budget report. The board approved over $500,000 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act funding to cover the agency's shortfall.
Jeffries felt the allocation should have been further analyzed as a "stand-alone item,'' but he went along with the approval. Animal Services had to shutter its San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus earlier this year due to depressed revenue.
The county has received or been assigned nearly $500 million in CARES funding since April. That money has been allocated for grant programs that support small businesses, nonprofits, rent stabilization and temporary work for youths, as well as retraining programs for adults.
Johnson said that because of federal and state offsets, the county's general assistance program, managed by the Department of Public Social Services, has actually experienced a net decline in caseloads, lessening the strain on county revenue streams. General assistance includes money for temporary housing and unemployment relief.
In June, the board approved a $6.46 billion budget for the current fiscal year. As part of the process, the Executive Office directed more than three-dozen agencies to implement 10% across-the-board cuts to contain red ink.
The 2020-21 appropriations plan is roughly $200 million, or 3%, larger than the prior fiscal year budget.