RIVERSIDE (CNS) – Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin and Sheriff Chad Bianco told the Board of Supervisors Monday that they need appropriations above what’s in the proposed 2022-23 fiscal year budget to ensure operations are sustained going forward.
“We have to find the resources to deal with growing caseloads,” Hestrin said during his presentation in the first board hearing on the proposed budget. “We’re asking for an additional $3.6 million for backfills and mandates. As more people pour into Riverside County, we have problems on the horizon.”
Hestrin submitted a proposed budget seeking $174 million in 2022-23, compared to $158.53 million approved in the current fiscal year. The Executive Office is recommending a maximum $167 million to hold the line on spending.
The D.A. anticipated ending the current fiscal year with an $800,000 surplus, and he told the board the bare minimum extra funding that he needs to get by is the $3.6 million.
Hestrin noted that the D.A.’s office is under pressure with unceasing state mandates favoring re-adjudications and re-sentencings, forcing prosecutors to revisit cases that have already been disposed.
The county’s top prosecutor cited the latest example, Senate Bill 483, which permits inmates to petition for a re-sentencing if their convictions included three-year enhancements for prior offenses, mostly related to drug trafficking.
“Three hundred cases came to us last year; 1,400 or 1,500 cases may be coming to us this year,” he said.
Another measure, SB 775, requires attempted murder and manslaughter convictions to be “retroactively” invalidated with new re-sentencing proceedings whenever revised legislative criteria can be applied; SB 567 and Assembly Bill 124 require aggravating factors to be reconsidered in cases eligible for re-sentencing; AB 1540 permits “successive re-sentencing proceedings” based on California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation requests and presumptions that didn’t exist when a defendant was originally found guilty.
The number of prosecutors on staff — 250 — is roughly the same as a decade ago, and workloads are mounting continually, Hestrin said.
Of all the county public safety agencies, the Sheriff’s Department requires the greatest General Fund support, receiving $885.48 million in 2021- 22. Sheriff Chad Bianco submitted a budget request seeking $950 million in appropriations. The Executive Office is recommending $901 million.
Bianco said that the $49 million shortfall can be managed, but it will require the department to continue to “operate like we’re one of the smallest” sheriff’s agencies in the state, instead of the second-largest.
He anticipated ending the current fiscal year in the black.
Bianco told the board that the department has benefited from increasing numbers of “lateral hires,” or recruiting law enforcement personnel from other agencies, to swell the patrol ranks. However, the department’s total employment — sworn and non-sworn — is 3,516, well below the peak of 4,135 in 2014-15.
According to the sheriff, he needs more funding to establish the planned Lake Mathews station, which would serve multiple communities directly, including El Cerrito, Gavilan Hills, Temescal Valley and Woodcrest, which currently require patrol personnel from three surrounding stations to serve, impacting response times.
The phased opening of the Benoit Detention Center in Indio remains a distant goal, with less than one-third of the jail’s inmate beds in use because there aren’t enough correctional deputies to staff three floors of the relatively new facility.
Bianco said a sheriff’s helicopter will need to be replaced, and he still hasn’t been able to get the planned Eastern County Aviation Unit up and running to exclusively serve the Coachella Valley and desert areas because funding isn’t available.
“There’s no telling what can be thrown at us and what we’ll have to address in the next couple of years,” he said.
Fire Chief Bill Weiser’s was the shortest presentation, during which he requested an additional $2.57 million in Proposition 172 public safety sales tax revenue.
The Executive Office has recommended a total $419 million in appropriations for the county’s fire operations, which are managed by Cal Fire.
The fire department relies on a contract fee paid by the county, as well as revenue streams from the 20 municipalities within the county that contract for county emergency services, to cover costs.
Weiser said the additional $2.57 million will help cover expenses tied to converting three wildland fire stations — Cabazon, Cherry Valley and Poppet Flats — to municipal stations.
Additional funds are also required to hire two more fire marshals, purchase an excavator and modernize classrooms at the Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center in Riverside
The total proposed budget for county government in 2022-23 is $7.45 billion, roughly 8% larger than the current fiscal year budget, which totaled $6.88 billion. The new budget boasts just over $1 billion in anticipated discretionary revenue, compared to $971 million that swelled county coffers in 2021-22. The county reserve pool is predicted to reach $368 million by the start of 2022-23, compared to $284 million now.
Executive Office staff indicated property tax receipts, sales and use tax receipts, as well as redevelopment asset liquidation revenues all increased in the current fiscal year.
Another budget hearing is expected to follow Tuesday’s regular board business.
A tentative budget must be approved by June 30, and formal adoption of the spending plan must be in place by Oct. 2.
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