The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is set to adopt a $9.6 billion budget at tomorrow’s meeting for the 2024-25 fiscal year, which starts July 1. (Alicia Ramirez/TN News)

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is set to adopt a $9.6 billion budget at tomorrow’s meeting for the 2024-25 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

“In the old days, way back like five years ago, it felt like there was a budget season,” Jeff Van Wagenen, county executive officer, said at the June 10 budget hearing. “You would work hard, get the budget adopted, take a deep breath and then move forward. That’s not the case anymore.

“Budget season, budget preparation, budget maintenance is a year round effort,” he continued. “This cycle shows that we are constantly working in the executive office with our departments to manage the budget. Certainly that work has paid off, but it is definitely some heavy lifting.”

The proposed budget, an 11% increase over the current fiscal year budget, includes approximately $1 million for wildfire prevention, $6.1 million to support Harmony Haven Children & Youth Center, $2 million to increase access to low-cost spay and neuter programs, $725,000 to expand trial preparation and cold case operations and $170,000 to fund a medical alert wristband pilot program at Southwest Juvenile Hall.

“This budget is much more than numbers on a page – it reflects our goals, and its impact within the community,” Van Wagenen wrote in this year’s budget book. “We are expanding mental health services, hiring social workers to help our most vulnerable, committing funds toward affordable housing, allocating substantial resources to our public safety teams, and investing in infrastructure projects for water, sewer, and roads that will stimulate economic growth.”

The proposed budget also includes $2.6 billion for the RUHS Health and Hospital Services portfolio, $2.2 billion for the public safety portfolio and $2.1 billion for the human services portfolio and $1.2 billion for the public works and community services portfolio.

A number of those who spoke during the public hearing called on the board to re-evaluate how it will allocate $1.2 billion in general fund discretionary spending, of which $10 million has already been set aside for targeted investment in the county’s unincorporated communities and another $20 million for special one-time funding discussed during the June 11 budget hearing.

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“While public safety is important, it is unnecessary to dedicate 67% of discretionary funding to it when there are more immediate needs that will be underfunded,” Bryan Sanchez, a Beaumont resident, said. “Along with increasing funding to housing initiatives, mental health services and economic development, I ask the board of supervisors to allocate that funding to the creation of comprehensive community engagement plans that aim to increase transparency, and include workshops, public forums and digital platforms to gather input from the public.”

Others spoke in favor of increasing funding for Eastern Riverside County in an effort to improve the quality of life of those living and working there.

“I would like to see more direct funding for my community to improve our lives,” Nataly Escibedo Garcia, reading a statement from a resident unable to attend the public hearing, said. “This includes the development of programs to support farmworker families and the improvement of social services.”

According to Van Wagenen, the budget process starts months before a budget is presented to the board with conversations between his office and all of the departments in the county as part of a larger strategic financial planning process. Then, in January, when the governor’s office releases its first draft of the budget, Van Wagenen said that’s when his office really gets to work crunching the numbers.

“Now, we know that there’s going to be a lot of changes between January and May, but we spend a lot of time trying to understand what the potential impacts or implications are of the state budget,” he said. “And then when the May Revise is delivered by the governor, we go through the whole process again, but in a much more accelerated and abbreviated timeline, because we know that they’ve got to pass the budget by mid June.”

Van Wagenen also said that his office has changed how it keeps track of the budget throughout the year, doing away with a traditional first quarter report and instituting a year-end validation process to see how the departments ended the fiscal year.

“The other thing that we do at that time is to make sure that the funding that was meant to be spent on something was actually spent on that, and we make sure that if there’s any unspent general fund discretionary revenue, that that then comes back to the county reserves,” he said. “That’s one of the ways that we’ve been able to increase our reserves over the last three years.”

Van Wagenen said his office is looking to provide additional opportunities next year for residents to weigh in on the budget earlier in the process so they can better understand the process as well as figuring out ways to better present the information to people so it’s more accessible.

The full agenda for tomorrow’s meeting can be found here.

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Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.

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