Valley News -

Most county agencies in black, but deficits impacting others


Last updated 2/1/2019 at 3:25pm

RIVERSIDE - Most Riverside County agencies are operating within their allocated budgets as the midpoint of the 2018-19 fiscal year is crossed, but a few are struggling with deficits that will need to be addressed in the coming months, according to a report that the Board of Supervisors will review Tuesday.

The county's 50-page midyear budget report was largely upbeat, with CEO George Johnson noting that all but a few departments were "hitting fiscal targets,'' and that the county's projected discretionary revenue will be higher than previously anticipated.

The Riverside University Health System's red ink was expected to be the largest near-term loss before 2018-19 comes to an end. Executive Office staff projected a $16 million shortfall due to lower federal reimbursements for healthcare services delivered to the indigent and uninsured receiving treatment at the county's 10 public health clinics.

Officials said plans to improve efficiencies and revise rate schedules will improve revenue prospects in the future, but noted in the report that the "process does not allow a quick fix,'' and the county may have to absorb the loss.

The Office of the District Attorney is projecting a $3.4 million hole, about 20 percent lower than had been predicted in July. Administrators in the D.A.'s office blamed the structural deficit on various factors, including lack of timely state reimbursements for mandated programs. According to the EO, the agency will likely succeed in whittling down the overage by another $1 million by June, leaving a roughly $2.4 million gap.

The Emergency Management Department is wrestling with $1.96 million in unanticipated costs that threaten to tip the agency into fiscal deficit.

The overage stems from the 13,000-acre Cranston Fire near Mountain Center in July and the 23,000-acre Holy Fire in the Cleveland National Forest, west of Lake Elsinore, in August, officials said.

The EMD's Emergency Operations Center was activated for both alleged arson blazes and remained in operation 24-hours a day for over six weeks, incurring significant labor and other costs. According to the Executive Office, most of the money can be recouped from state and federal sources since the two

fires resulted in emergency declarations, but those payments may not be received until late in the next fiscal year.

Officials are recommending that the board use contingency funds to resolve the impairment for now.

The Department of Public Social Services is faced with $4.4 million in higher costs to manage welfare programs in the current fiscal year, which the board recognized before the end of 2017-18, allocating $6 million to keep DPSS whole. The appropriation, however, fell short due to "significantly increased'' caseloads, according to the report.

Executive Office staff are recommending that the board drawdown contingency accounts to meet this overage as well.

The Office of the Public Defender entered the fiscal year with a structural deficit approaching $500,000, and more than a quarter million dollars is still needed to put the agency in the black, according to the report. There are no plans to immediately close the gap.

The Riverside County Sheriff's Department, the largest consumer of county discretionary money in the public safety sphere, is uncharacteristically projecting a potential surplus of $10 million, according to the report. However, officials pointed out that the John J. Benoit Detention Center in Indio, which is being opened in phases over several years to keep a lid on costs, will continue to require greater allocations, which the board will review as part of its budgeting process for 2019-20.

Executive Office staff said the county ended 2017-18 with nearly $220 million in reserves, thanks largely to fiscal discipline and unexpected revenue streams.

The county's discretionary revenue pool is now projected to end 2018-19 with just under $800 million, or $15 million more than first estimated. When Proposition 172 public safety sales tax revenue is factored in, the total jumps to $989 million, compared to $963 million under prior projections, according to the report.


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