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Henderson seniors voice concerns over threatened city cutbacks

About 120 Henderson seniors filled the Heritage Park Senior Facility lunchroom Tuesday to express concerns over proposed cuts or changes in senior services that would affect them.

Ann Adams suggested during the city’s Bridging the Budget Gap presentation that changes to the city’s senior programs will hurt those who can least afford the cuts. Changes to the city’s senior transportation program, senior meals and hours at the two senior centers were discussed.

Some also expressed concerns of a proposed residential tax increase of 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

“Each thing you’re doing is impacting me, and I’m not complaining because I can absorb it,” Adams said. “But there are people in here who cannot.”

Bob Murnane, director of public works, parks and recreation, said the city understands there are seniors who have a “true need” for the services the city has provided, and staff is working to minimize any impacts.

The recommendations were part of a Special Budget Ad Hoc Committee report given to the City Council in February to help bridge an annual $17 million infrastructure shortfall. The 21-member volunteer community committee met nine times between September and December. The City Council will decide which recommendations to adopt at its May 6 meeting.

One of the most volatile issues Tuesday was a committee’s recommendation to eliminate a senior transportation program that costs the city $236,000 per year.

Murnane said the city will not eliminate the program but is negotiating with three parties, including the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, to “provide the same level of service.”

The program, which picks up seniors at their home and transports them to Heritage Park, has 111 unique riders and costs Henderson an average of $48 per passenger one way. The passenger pays 50 cents.

“Our goal is to have a service in place that provides the same level of access the current services provides, but get the city out of the business,” Murnane said.

Some seniors expressed concern of cutting the city’s $350,000 contribution to Meals On Wheels and senior nutrition.

Sheri Ferguson, assistant parks and recreation manager, said the city cannot make the senior meals programs “cost-neutral without completely devastating the program.”

“But what we are going to do is look at running the business better,” said Ferguson, adding the city is looking at food cost eliminating the weekend meal program at the two senior centers. The city is also looking to help establish a nonprofit foundation that could help defer some of the costs on transportation and meals.

Ferguson said the department will recommend closing the Heritage Park Senior Center on Sundays, move the closing time up two hours to 3 p.m. on Saturday, and open an hour later at 6 a.m. during the week.

Murnane said printing of new punch passes — frequent user cards for pools and recreation center equipment that provided as much as a 60 percent discount — has stopped with the recommendation that they be discontinued. Some are still being sold at some of the recreation centers that have not already sold them out.

The elimination would save the city an estimated $115,000 annually.

The city is working with Our Savior’s Lutheran Church downtown to take over a local bread pickup program that costs Henderson $17,000 annually.

Some seniors expressed concern that the City Council could raise property taxes. The council could raise it by 3 cents this year without a vote of the residents, but it would only yield about $500,000 because of current caps in place. A 20-cent increase would require approval and could not be on the ballot until 2015.

Employee salaries and benefits, which account for nearly 80 percent of the city’s $225.5 million general budget fund expenses, were also questioned.

Jim Reid, a Henderson resident since 1965, said the employee packages “sounds like you’ve got the tail wagging the dog.”

“I think there’s room in the city employees for cuts across the board,” said Reid.

City Manager Jacob Snow said the executive staff and the nearly 300 employees not covered by union contracts — information technology, engineering, planning, finance and accounting — have seen their pay cut 11 percent, and likely will not see cost-of-living or merit increases during their employment. The city has also negotiated a 2 percent reduction in anticipated pay increases for the nearly 60 percent of the employees covered by unions over the past two years.

“Its not like we haven’t done anything about the problem, its not like we’re not doing anything about the problem, it’s not like we’re not going to do anything to address that problem in the future,” Snow said. “But we’re doing what we have the ability to do.”

Contact Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3882. Find him on Twitter: @KnightlyGrind.

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