Is Riverside County’s upcoming budget the worst it has ever faced? In the words of Supervisor Bob Buster, the answer is yes, as the official called for major sacrifices during the second annual State of the County event. While the official has dealt with 19 county budgets during all his years of experience, he emphasized that this year’s fiscal situation was the most difficult. We’ve relayed recently that Riverside is facing an $80 million deficit in the next fiscal year and officials have been tussling over the best ways to address the county’s budget woes. You may recall that Executive Officer Bill Luna resigned in September and that major options seem to be layoffs, salary cuts, reserve depletion, and borrowing against county-owned property and investments. The county has also been debating pension reforms, such as having county workers pay more toward their pensions. Buster called such a proposal a “fair and reasonable” solution that could prevent some layoffs. Buster, who is the board’s chairman, commented the following during his speech:
“Saving these jobs can only be done through common sacrifice among all of us — all 18,000 county employees. The sooner we start paying into our pensions and put all new hires under a lower pension formula, the more of our fellow workers’ jobs we can save. […] This budget is more than an exercise in arithmetic. It’s harder because reserves are at a bare minimum, having been drained to shore up public safety functions. It’s harder because the clock is running out. Employee jobs are at stake.”
Last month Supervisors approved the final version of the fiscal 2011-2012 budget, but it was patched together with $28 million in reserves and another $51 million in other one-time funding; consequently, it was described as an unsustainable approach in the long term. If the county creates a two-tier pension plan for new hires, then it is believed over $200 million could be saved during the next decade. More about the State of the County event can be seen here.