2 Counties to Spend Tax Windfalls

Times Staff Writers

Riverside and San Bernardino counties, flush with increased revenue from a year of explosive growth, have proposed expanded budgets for the coming fiscal year, with public safety the big winner.

Officials from both counties Monday asked their boards of supervisors for permission to tap the windfalls. Both boards are expected to approve the budgets by the end of the month.

Riverside County’s proposed $3.4-billion budget represents an 8% increase in spending from this fiscal year. As California’s fastest-growing county, Riverside saw a 20% increase in sales-tax revenue and a nearly 30% increase in property tax revenue over the last fiscal year.

“This is the best year I’ve seen,” said Christopher Hans, Riverside County budget coordinator. “Revenue is pouring in much faster than we expected.” But, Hans said, “our needs are growing as fast as our revenue.”

Riverside County ballooned to 1.9 million residents in 2004, from 1.2 million residents in 1990, according to census figures.


San Bernardino County recently showed the third-largest population increase in the state, swelling to 1.9 million last year from 1.4 million in 1990. Los Angeles County was second. Its financial picture is similarly rosy: Its $3-billion budget request has jumped 6% from last fiscal year, in part reflecting a near-doubling of property tax revenue to $320 million.

Median home prices in San Bernardino and Riverside counties recently hit record highs, according to DataQuick Information Systems, which tracks property values.

Other county revenue sources, including sales tax, also are expected to grow.

Dean Arabatzis, San Bernardino County’s interim assistant county administrative officer, said the county consistently lagged in funding relative to its size.

“That’s why you’re seeing elation. It’s like, finally, we don’t have to tighten our belts,” he said.

Included in Riverside County’s proposed $519-million discretionary budget is $152.1 million for public safety and courts and $137.5 million for the Sheriff’s Department.

Riverside County Sheriff-Coroner Bob Doyle requested $20.4 million in additional funds Monday to pay for 178 new positions -- more than half sworn officers -- and a $2.7-million helicopter to patrol the Coachella Valley.

“We are no longer the rural county that we once were,” Doyle told the board. “We are now faced with urban problems.”

Chairman Marion Ashley described Doyle’s proposals as “bold,” but indicated he would support most of the expansions.

Riverside County Dist. Atty. Grover Trask asked for 83 more staff members, citing the Inland Empire’s high incidence of identity fraud -- second only to Phoenix in the nation -- and the region’s problems with gangs, elder abuse and domestic violence. The tab: $11.8 million.

Riverside County’s average of 90 felony cases per deputy district attorney -- the second-highest caseload in the state -- is an “impossible burden,” Trask said.

Riverside County health and welfare services are slated to receive $128.5 million, which includes substance abuse services and healthcare for prisoners.

In San Bernardino County, officials want to add nearly 545 staffers, including nearly 278 in the Sheriff’s Department. The budget for the sheriff’s, district attorney’s, probation and public defender’s departments would increase 11% to $531 million, in part because of the recent Adelanto jail purchase and a countywide anti-gang initiative.

The county’s budget proposal includes a $78-million increase to include such capital projects as alterations to the Adelanto jail and repairs to its central courthouse. On Monday, departments also requested more than $20 million in additional expenditures not included in the budget proposal, including for 49 sheriff’s deputies, 22 staffers in the public defender’s office and four staffers to start an identity theft prosecution unit in the district attorney’s office.

Thanks to the region’s breakneck growth, the two counties’ now-ample reserves offer protection from a possible economic slowdown, officials said.

“I think we probably need several bad years before it would come down to firing” newly hired sheriff’s deputies and deputy district attorneys, Hans said, citing the county’s $100-million-plus reserve. “The main thing is, we have these reserves [that] give us a long time to adapt and react to any changes we have in the economy.”

San Bernardino County officials expect to have a $140-million reserve fund by next June, up from nearly $117 million.

Both counties face some uncertainty in the state and federal funding they will receive, which could affect spending on public and behavioral health programs.

“We’ve got to make decisions with the data we can count on and the dollars we can count on,” said San Bernardino County Supervisor Paul Biane.



Flush with cash

Riverside and San Bernardino counties have proposed 2005-06 budgets that are 8.3% and 6% higher than last year, respectively, to keep pace with services for a booming population, officials say.

Riverside County and San Bernardino County budgets (in billions)

Riverside County

Final budget 2004-05: $3.27

Proposed 2004-05: $3.54

San Bernardino County

Final budget 2004-05: $2.84

Proposed 2004-05: $3.01


Property tax revenue

Both counties anticipate much higher property tax revenue.

(Dollar figures, in millions, are rounded)

San Bernardino County (+99%)

Final 2004-05: $160.7

Anticipated 2005-06: $319.7

Riverside County (+29.2%)

Final 2004-05: $168.2

Anticipated 2005-06: $217.3


Sources: Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Graphics reporting by Susannah Rosenblatt and Ashley Powers

Los Angeles Times