Henderson cuts costs in new budget

Henderson will continue to cut costs in the coming fiscal year while seeking concessions from all employee groups to help reduce a projected $13.5 million deficit.

The city's $480 million spending plan for fiscal 2013 is nearly 4 percent less than the current $498 million budget.

"Obviously, we have challenges we're still facing," city Finance Director Richard Derrick said Tuesday.

City Council members approved the budget in a unanimous vote Tuesday night. It includes $4 million in cuts and the elimination of four vacant utility positions.

Officials boast that Henderson has fared better than other local entities because it quickly addressed the economic downturn, which caused unprecedented declines in sales and property taxes, and because it has fostered strong relationships with its employee groups.

"We approached this early," Budget Manager Jill Lynch said. "We have been strategic about making cuts over the last several years, but we're still not done."

Property tax revenue has fallen from the $85.7 million peak in fiscal 2009 to the projected $57.3 million in fiscal 2013 - a 33 percent drop.

Derrick said one of Henderson's financial strengths is that it maintains one of the lowest property tax rates in the area.

"If one of our citizens actually resided in another jurisdiction, they would have a higher property tax bill," he said.

Consolidated tax revenue, which consists mostly of sales tax money, has been rising steadily in recent years. Nevertheless, the projected revenue of $81.7 million for fiscal 2013 is 21 percent below the $103 million peak in fiscal 2006.

"We still have a deep hole that we're trying to dig out of," Derrick said.

Meanwhile, the city's population has grown by more than 2,000 over the past year, to its current total of nearly 267,000.

"So our service demand has not gone down proportionally to the decreases we've seen in property tax and consolidated tax," city spokesman Bud Cranor said.

Overall, Henderson has reduced spending by more than $105 million since 2008 while avoiding massive layoffs and union fights that other cities in the Southern Nevada have experienced.

Henderson has cut hundreds of jobs outside of the public safety field, or 17 percent of its workforce, over the past four years. Most of the staff cuts were achieved through a voluntary employee severance plan.

Lynch said the city did away with longevity pay, and none of its approximately 1,800 employees will be receiving cost-of-living increases in fiscal 2013.

Operations for a new Downtown Senior Center, which opened in March on Water Street, and new fields at Heritage Park add to the expenses in the city's new budget.

"Right now, we're not building as many things as we did in the past," Derrick said.

He said the city keeps $16 million in a budget stabilization fund.

"We don't want to use up all the reserves," Derrick said. "However, we know we have reserves to help bridge through this economic downturn."

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710.