Clark County officials say layoffs might be needed

Clark County’s department heads snipped here and there, coming up with $22.5 million in proposed savings.

But officials say it might not be enough to prevent layoffs in a growing budget crisis.

The overall reduction of 2.6 percent misses the 5 percent target that County Manager Virginia Valentine set in July to help offset the $180.5 million the county will lose over two years because of actions by the state Legislature.

County commissioners will review the plans Tuesday.

The potential impact on services is uncertain because none of the plans calls for laying off full-time workers, at least for now, county leaders said.

Three-dozen county departments and University Medical Center would trim costs mainly by eliminating vacant jobs, laying off part-time employees, reducing overtime and buying fewer supplies, according to county documents.

Valentine and other officials said it’s becoming difficult to avoid laying off full-time employees.

“It is staff’s opinion that very little flexibility remains to reduce operating budgets much further,” Valentine wrote in a summary. “Any further reductions would need to (be) achieved through a reduction in force.”

County Commissioner Steve Sisolak agreed.

“I think this demonstrates that all the little things that can be done without layoffs have been done,” Sisolak said. “If we go any further, it’s going to result in some layoffs.”

You can only delay maintenance projects so long and cut down on supplies so much to free up money for services, he said. The county’s biggest cost is labor, which becomes harder to sustain at the current level if revenue is decreasing, he added.

If the departments’ plans are carried out, the county would slash 170 part-time jobs and 31.5 vacant full-time jobs funded through the operating budget, said Don Burnette, the county’s chief administrative officer.

The budget cuts would recoup some of the $60 million the county took from a reserve fund to cover this year’s revenue shortfall and legislative grab, Burnette said. Depleting the reserve can lower the county’s bond rating — making loans more expensive — and crimp financial flexibility, he said.

Some departments fell short of their 5 percent cost-cutting target, such as the Public Defender’s Office at 0.7 percent. Others well exceeded the mark, such as the Finance Department with 13.1 percent.

Department heads were told to go as far as they could without resorting to layoffs, Burnette said, adding that layoffs were “a discussion we deferred until another day.”

He said he couldn’t say when the layoffs might occur.

County Appraiser Mark Schofield recalled the county’s last round of layoffs in 1983 as a “heart-wrenching experience.” Eleven jobs in the assessor’s office will remain vacant at least a year, further straining a staff that must handle an escalating volume of property tax appeals, he said.

Even a revenue-generating department like his might not be immune to layoffs, Schofield said. “The picture is not pretty. If the revenue doesn’t turn around, I don’t see how they (layoffs) can be unavoidable.”

As for cost-cutting, UMC would save the most of any department by shaving 7.4 percent of its budget for $4.85 million. However, this would take a small bite out of the hospital’s $90 million deficit that resulted in part from covering uninsured patients and dealing with cuts in state funding.

Family Services would snip 9.8 percent to save $3.2 million, mostly by scrapping 60 part-time jobs, slashing contracted services and reducing overtime.

The Fire Department, with a 1.4 percent cut, would achieve the third-largest savings at $1.86 million. The department would not do “brownouts” — shutting down some fire stations for a day — to save money, Fire Chief Steve Smith said.

Instead, it would eliminate nine vacant support jobs, such as fire inspectors and office help, Smith said. Forecasts for the coming year are grim. County finance officials predict a $115 million shortfall in 2010 as commercial property values dip and sales tax revenue drops.

The impact on services is bound to be felt with 13 percent of the county’s budgeted jobs left vacant, Burnette said. The workload has increased while staffing has diminished, he said.

“How long we can continue to operate like that, I don’t know,” Burnette said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at or 702-455-4519.