Clark County approves budget with more layoffs, job cuts


Eighty-two workers would be laid off and 126 vacant jobs slashed under the budget that Clark County commissioners approved Monday, and the staffing cuts could go deeper if the Nevada Legislature raids county coffers in the coming weeks.

The layoffs would push the total number to 446 since the recession began straining the county's budget three years ago. However, officials expect at least a dozen layoffs will be avoided by employees retiring or quitting, though their jobs will be cut after they leave.

With a legislative money grab on the horizon, one county commissioner suggested exploring a tax increase to help offset any further loss of revenue in the budget crunch.

The head of the county's largest union lamented the need to lay off employees and beseeched commissioners to find other ways to trim the budget in the future.

"Let's not have layoffs become the norm" said Al Martinez, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1107, which represents about 9,500 county employees.

The county budget includes a $1.2 billion general fund, which covers daily operations and is fed mostly with taxes and fees. Falling tax revenue left about a $100 million shortfall in the general fund.

Cost-cutting measures will reduce the shortfall by $48.6 million.

Those are: $4.4 million in employee concessions, $17.1 million less going to fund the Metropolitan Police Department and $27.1 million in reduced costs in various departments, including staffing cuts.

The remaining $50 million hole will be filled by tapping a $155 million reserve fund. By pulling money from the reserve, the county is essentially carrying a shortfall into the next year, officials said.

County managers and most employees recently took 2 percent pay cuts, saving more than $10 million.

About $4.4 million of that went to offsetting the general fund deficit, said county budget manager Yolanda King.

County Manager Don Burnette said he was glad the shortfall was reduced, but that more must be done. Managers will ask unions for more concessions in the next labor contracts, he said.

STATE REVENUE GRAB

Although the budget was labeled "final," commissioners are likely to revise it later. County officials can amend the budget within 30 days after the legislative session ends to deal with any financial effects from lawmakers' actions.

The county is expected to lose as much as $125 million this year from the state taking local tax money, raising fees and diverting responsibility for funding some programs to the county.

County managers have made no official estimate on the number of layoffs that could result from a hefty revenue grab by the state.

"If history is any indication, we're going to have to prepare as if we'll have to make further reductions" after the legislative session, Burnette said.

The county's resources are depleted from three years of budget cuts, leaving nothing to slash except jobs, he added.

PROPERTY TAX SOLUTION

Commissioner Tom Collins wants to explore raising the countywide property tax rate, which is now 44 cents per $100. He said he would like to increase it by 6 or 7 cents to offset the 9 cents that state leaders aim to take from the operating and capital funds.

That would add $60 or $70 to the yearly tax bill on a $100,000 home.

The county has the authority to raise the property tax rate as long as it remains under the legal ceiling.

Collins said there's room under the cap to bump up the rate even further, but that he only wants to raise it enough to stabilize county government. He suggests adding a clause calling for the taxes to be lowered when the state repays the money it takes.

The idea is to save jobs and protect vital services, he said, arguing that big casinos and retailers, not homeowners, would pay the bulk of the taxes.

"At some point we're not providing the services we're supposed to," Collins said. "The jails are overcrowded. Social services are leaving people out on the street, and they're dying.

OTHER COMMISSIONERS WEIGH IN

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani questioned whether towns like Laughlin were paying their fair share. However, she said that she couldn't get behind a higher tax on county residents.

The county should look at increasing efficiency in every department and sharing services with other local governments instead of ratcheting up taxes, she said.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak said he opposes a tax increase. Those who advocate higher taxes never want to lower them when the economy improves, he said.

"The government can't keep raising taxes to meet our shortfalls," Sisolak said.

But Burnette said the repeated budget cuts in the past three years and the legislative revenue takeaway in 2009 have severely depleted the county's resources.

If the state digs deep into the county's coffers again, the county might have to look at generating more revenue to avoid cutting important services, he said. "We should start having that conversation."

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

 

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