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Riverside County’s budget crunch could burn through its savings, officials warn

By in Press Enterprise on January 9, 2018

By Jeff Horseman

Riverside County’s $161 million savings could plummet to $8 million if costs aren’t cut, according to a new county staff report.

To that end, a hiring freeze is in effect across much of county government. Draining the county’s reserves would not only hurt the county’s credit rating, but leave the piggy bank bare should an earthquake or other disaster strike.

Meanwhile, officials with the county executive office, which oversees day-to-day operations, are moving forward with a plan to partially open the expanded Indio jail this summer, even though Sheriff Stan Sniff has said there’s not enough time to hire and train the needed staff by the time construction is expected to finish in late summer.

The budget woes, which are on the county Board of Supervisors’ agenda for Tuesday, Jan. 9, are the latest challenges for a financially squeezed county still searching for a path out of a flood of red ink.

After the Great Recession forced the county to furlough employees and close non-essential offices on Fridays — measures that have since been rescinded — tax revenues started bouncing back. But the rate of recovery is being outpaced by a series of new, ongoing and inflexible costs, including:

  • Raises contractually guaranteed to employees in exchange for pension savings.
  • A lawsuit settlement that will force the county to spend more on jail inmates’ health care.
  • Rising obligations to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. A new county projection has the county paying $279.5 million more than it does now for pension obligations by summer 2022.
  • The prospect of paying tens of millions of dollars a year more for a state-mandated program providing in-home care for indigent seniors and adults with disabilities.

The budget crunch has led supervisors to take a hard line in talks with several unions over new labor contracts, and terms have already been […]    

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