Clark County could be forced to lay off 530 workers by July

Clark County must either lay off 530 workers or reduce wages by 14 percent to offset a $57 million shortfall, according to a budget forecast presented Friday.

Any layoffs and wage reductions must be done by July, when the next fiscal year begins, a county spokesman said.

The county and its public employee unions will spend the next six weeks bargaining over whether to cut jobs, wages or a mixture of both. County officials must submit a balanced 2010-11 budget to the state by June 1.

By then, the county must have a clear idea of who will be laid off to give the workers time to prepare for losing their jobs, County Commissioner Larry Brown said.

"Fundamentally, 530 people may be out of work, so that message needs to be communicated," Brown said.

The report released Friday is the county's first estimate of potential layoffs and echoes the pain felt by other jurisdictions in the valley. For instance, North Las Vegas laid off 204 workers Thursday and Las Vegas is looking at whether to reduce salaries or its work force.

The report outlines the impacts to the $1.2 billion general operating fund, which covers much of the county's labor costs. However, it does not include the layoffs that might occur in departments funded by user fees, such as McCarran International Airport. Union representatives said they want to study the report to make sure the data is correct.

"Until we see the hard facts, we're not going to have a judgment," said David Peter, deputy director for the Service Employees International Union Local 1107.

Peter questioned how the county could make such deep cuts to wages or to staffing that's already tight. More than 1,000 jobs remain vacant under a two-year hiring freeze, putting an increasing strain on employees, he said.

"You can only do so much with so many people," Peter said. "It takes a toll on people."

The union represents 9,500 of the county's roughly 12,000 employees.

Tax revenue this year dipped by about $69 million, and is expected to fall by another $61 million next budget year, the report said.

University Medical Center continues to be a financial drain, in part because of reduced state funding. The hospital's operating deficit is expected to reach $74 million next budget year, down from this year's $84 million.

The county faced a $190 million shortage in next year's general fund but whittled it down to about $57 million.

It shaved off $75 million by diverting money from a capital-projects reserve known as Fund 437, and saved another $57.5 million through miscellaneous cost-cutting, said Yolanda King, the county's budget manager.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak asked whether job cuts could be avoided if workers made wage concessions.

"It would take pretty deep concessions to close the gap entirely," County Manager Virginia Valentine said.

Peter said slashing wages by 14 percent across-the-board was unrealistic.

County Finance Director George Stevens said the 3 percent property tax cap, which brought in lower revenues because of sharply depreciated homes, will make it harder for the county to recover.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said the county should consider lobbying the state Legislature to rescind the cap.

But Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said he would oppose any tax increase because it would hurt areas in his district that have been hit hard by the recession.

Weekly also lamented the job losses that possibly lie ahead.

"That's a high number to hear -- 530 people who stand to lose their jobs and careers," he said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@review or 702-455-4519.