RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The Board of Supervisors Tuesday directed staff to eliminate more than 2,000 vacant positions across three dozen Riverside County agencies as part of an effort to reduce confusion and waste in the budgeting process.
Supervisor Jeff Hewitt sought and got the entire board’s backing for an expedited analysis by the Executive Office to identify both unfilled positions that are designated by the Department of Human Resources but are not funded, and those positions that are on the books and have been funded, or can be so immediately, but are not filled.
The study uncovered a total of 2,161 vacant unfunded jobs, which exist in name only, and 3,594 funded positions, where the slots are open and the money has been authorized to be spent on salaries and benefits.
“This is how performance without waste can be judged,” Hewitt said. “This is a cleanup.”
Money is allocated annually to the funded but unfilled posts, and the Executive Office requested that the board allow until September for a second report with recommendations on how many of the funded vacancies should be chopped.
Some of the jobs do not require general fund appropriations because they’re paid for using state or federal outlays. However, initial estimates indicate that $18 million to $21 million in savings might be netted to the county by removing the vacancies.
“We could have real savings,” Hewitt said. “The economy is still hurting, and that’s money we could be putting back into social programs.”
With the county facing a $100 million deficit tied to the public health shutdowns that have sapped economic activity amid the coronavirus emergency, every penny needs to be accounted for, according to Hewitt.
The Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley had the highest number of funded vacant positions — 750 — while the Department of Human Resources had the largest number of unfunded vacant positions at 1,456.
“The authorized position does not become funded until the department head makes the decision to fund it,” according to an Executive Office statement posted to the board’s agenda. “A position may remain authorized — on the books — for that department even if it isn’t funded, and thus is vacant. Over time, the collection of authorized vacant positions has increased, which occurs for many different reasons, such as obsoletion, promotion, attrition and reorganization.”
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries had complained in prior budget cycles about the ongoing rotation of unfilled but authorized positions.
“We have positions that are created during severe budget constraints, and no positions are being eliminated,” he said last week. “It’s the wrong optics for the board and county to maintain such a large number of employee positions and not be eliminating those positions when they’re not necessary anymore.”
He said vacant unfunded positions are adding to confusion when appropriations are set for each agency.
Sheriff Chad Bianco last week notified the board that in the current fiscal year, he had 334 vacant positions that are funded. But with sheriff’s academies shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, the chances of them being filled in the next year appeared slim.
According to county CEO George Johnson, 1,423 of the unfunded posts are associated with the county’s temporary assignment program, under which workers are assigned to various agencies on an at-will basis, without a contract.
Johnson recommended — and the board accepted — vacancy rates averaging 5% in most departments, with authorized positions on the books and possibly available to be filled as the fiscal year progresses. The rates will be more flexible for the county’s two largest agencies — the Department of Public Social Services and the Sheriff’s Department — both of which will be able to maintain an amount equal to 15% of payrolls with designated but unfilled slots.
The District Attorney’s Office will be permitted to maintain a vacancy rate of 12%.