Some county employees to face layoffs in new year


Some Clark County managers will get pink slips stuffed in their holiday stockings and some rank-and-file workers probably will be laid off sometime after New Year's Day to help offset plummeting tax revenue, county officials said Monday.

Not exactly a way to spread yuletide cheer, but the officials said they can't avoid layoffs.

They expect to lose $120 million in property taxes by next fiscal year and estimate that consolidated taxes -- which include sales tax receipts -- have fallen $20 million since July compared to the same time in 2008.

"Every month the results continue to be dire," county spokesman Erik Pappa said. "Those departments where service levels are down can expect to see some level of (job) cuts. And unfortunately we're not going to be able to put that off much longer."

The county will trim management jobs between Christmas and February, and begin reducing the union and nonunion work force after Jan. 1, said Don Burnette, the county's chief administrative officer.

A union representative said she was surprised about the county's quicker timeline for layoffs.

The $54 million that will be diverted from capital projects was supposed to be enough to stave off job cuts until August, said Amber Lopez Lasater, spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union Local 1107. The union is the county's largest, representing about 9,500 workers.

After commissioners agreed to pull the money from Fund 437 in October, a union researcher and the county's finance director met regularly for weeks to hash out the total amount of money that was available to fend off layoffs.

The two camps had wildly disparate estimates of how much money could be siphoned from the capital fund. The union withdrew its objections when county Finance Director George Stevens assured them that $54 million would be a sufficient stopgap through July, Lopez Lasater said.

But Pappa said the loss in consolidated taxes alone will wipe out the $54 million the revenues keep falling at the present pace.

The county can't justify maintaining the same level of staffing in departments where demand for services has waned, Pappa said.

Seven months ago, 51 people were laid off in Development Services because residential projects declined.

Social Services also laid off 24 full-time and 30 part-time workers in response to a $7 million loss after the state Legislature took tax money that had been going to the county.

Burnette said he wasn't ready to reveal the next departments that would be trimmed. He also wouldn't say whether the county might take a similar tack as the city of Las Vegas has and roll back wages instead of laying off workers.

A few commissioners said the choice between layoffs and pay cuts probably will be discussed with the union when bargaining begins in February. The current labor contract expires in July.

"I think everything is on the table," County Commissioner Tom Collins said.

He added that he doesn't foresee wage or job reductions before the contract runs out in July.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak said he would prefer freezing all pay raises -- merit, longevity, cost-of-living -- to save jobs.

"It doesn't matter what you call it," Sisolak said. "It's still money coming out of taxpayers' dollars that we don't have."

However, Lopez Lasater, the union spokeswoman, said the county must explain in detail why the capital money isn't enough to preserve services before they talk about cutting wages and jobs.

She said the county already is running at a near-skeleton staffing level, and even frugal taxpayers won't like the idea of children being left in dangerous foster homes because there are no workers to rescue them.

"There's a fine line when enough is enough," Lopez Lasater said.

To help soften the blow, the county in November revived a "voluntary separation" program that was offered in the spring. Workers who have been employed by the county at least five years can receive a week's pay for every two years of service. The maximum severance pay is 15 weeks.

To be eligible for the program, they must apply by Dec. 18 and quit by Jan. 8.

Earlier this year, 60 employees resigned, saving the county $1.2 million in wages for the year. Burnette said the response this time has been good but declined to give a running tally.

"Every employee who chooses voluntary separation is one less employee who would be laid off in the future," Burnette said.

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

 

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