Riverside County First District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries launched a message to his District residents: The County is $100 million short of the budget target.

Supervisor V. Manuel Perez shared his concerns with Fourth District residents saying preserving public safety and maintaining the safety net would be a priority for him — along with getting people back to work.

No word from Supervisors Karen Spiegel, Chuck Washington, or Jeff Hewitt yet, but you can count on them trying to let their districts know what the county is up against.

Riverside County CEO George Johnson is well prepared to lead through this most recent economic crisis. With three decades of county service under his belt he has seen recessions big and small, the dot.com bubble burst, 9-11, the Great Recession of 2008, and now the coronavirus economic destruction.

Johnson told county department leaders to tighten their belts weeks ago. His most recent message was to ask them to help him cut nearly $100 million from their budgets. Both Supervisors Jeffries and Perez shared that information with residents. Expect all five Supervisors to work closely with the CEO to review cuts before they are finalized.

Riverside County employees have ridden the roller coaster before. Layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, pension cost increases, and increases to health care costs have all been standard cuts during each crisis. This time may be different. Cookie-cutter across-the-board cuts that worked in the past may not work this time.

A paring back could include executives, managers,  and supervisors, along with rank and file. Past cuts generally targeted the entry- level employees who actually delivered services to the public. Supervisor Perez has said he expects perks management to also be reduced.

Public safety departments such as the sheriff, fire, probation and the district attorney’s office all take haircuts as the belt tightens. Departments that are harder to spare take bigger cuts.  Leadership just doesn’t have a lot of choices.

During these times the arguments in local government circles can turn to “The Color of Money.” These days, we are not sure if it makes a lot of difference where money is coming from since it can’t last much longer.

Federal and state funds generally take care of the safety net  programs like food stamps, housing vouchers, workforce development, community action, and numerous medical programs while general fund money is mostly used for public safety. If cuts come to these programs it will be driven by federal and state budget cuts — not the county.

A fiscal crisis is exacerbated in county government as money is often siloed and can’t be used for much. One source of funds are those generated by solid waste departments.

Each ton of trash that goes into a landfill (dump) generates cash. Those funds are used to run the landfill and pay for post closure costs as well. These funds can be massive, yet can’t be touched.

Perhaps during a fiscal crisis, not of the county government’s making, regulators can allow these funds to be used for other purposes. While it hasn’t worked in the past maybe now is the time? Rather than cut services and increase fees, looking at urgency legislation to allow for loans to general funds may be a partial solution. Cuts would still be required but service levels and the people needed to provide them may be spared. Yes, it’s a long shot but is it something worth looking at again?

Cuts will come and even if the economic engine is allowed to start up we can’t recover fast enough to save every program or job. The worst that job leaders have is telling great people they must be let go. It is even harder to do when the layoffs occur when finding a job is made harder by the coronavirus and a stalled economy.

Image Sources

  • Calculator: Pixaby