County agencies to feel strain

Family and social services and the offices of the district attorney and assessor will be further strained by increasing workloads after the latest round of cuts of 106 full-time employees by Clark County officials.

County leaders said they designed the layoffs, which will shave $28 million from the $48 million budget shortfall, to minimize the impact on public services, but officials acknowledged the cuts won’t be painless.

The deadline for notifying affected employees was Friday, although actual layoffs won’t be known until employees finish “bumping” to lower-level jobs. Layoffs will be effective July 6.

Some department heads said the job losses make it harder to deliver services.

Family services, which oversees children who are abused, neglected or require foster care, is eliminating 10 vacant posts when the workload is creeping to almost 30 cases per employee.

The agency reduced the caseload to 22 per worker a couple years ago after it reached the 40-per-worker mark in 2007. Critics said the heavy load contributed to the agency failing to protect children and not investigating 79 deaths that might have resulted from abuse and neglect between 2001 and 2004. The caseload is lighter than when state and federal officials chastised the agency, but it’s heading the wrong direction, officials said.

“The rate we’re opening cases is faster than the rate we’re closing cases,” said Christine Skorupski, family services spokeswoman. “There just aren’t enough hours in a month to do an adequate job.”

A higher caseload means less time to monitor the health and safety of children, she said, noting that 458 employees handle thousands of cases.

Social services, which aids homeless and impoverished adults, will lose three employees who handle cases.

Two rounds of layoffs and a hiring freeze have reduced the staff of social workers to 55 from 64 last year, Director Nancy McLane said. It will take longer for people to receive help and will diminish the attention they get, she said.

The county is cutting a total of 233 jobs in the general fund and 21 jobs covered by user fees. Of those, 50 jobs are part time and 100 are vacancies being frozen.

Almost 300 county employees have received pink slips in the past year as the county struggles with falling tax revenues in the recession.

Most affected employees have the option of replacing workers in lower-paying jobs that match their skills, also known as “bumping down.” But eventually someone down the chain will be laid off, county spokesman Erik Pappa said.

The county has begun negotiating parts of a labor contract with its largest public employees union.

The latest layoffs must be considered when discussing union workers making further concessions, said Amber Lopez Lasater of the Service Employees International Union Local 1107. She was referring to the union agreeing to the reduction of its cost-of-living raise to 1 percent from 3 percent last year.

“SEIU has done its part and continues to do its part,” Lopez Lasater said.

In April, County Manager Virginia Valentine told department heads to reduce staffing and gave them an 8 percent target. Assessor March Schofield submitted what he thought was a preliminary proposal. It included laying off a dozen employees and eliminating six vacancies to meet the 8 percent mark.

He said he was surprised when Valentine adopted the plan as final. He has asked her to discuss revising it to ensure he has enough staff to cover the record number of property tax assessment appeals his office is getting. If the current plan goes through, the assessor would have fewer employees than when the county hired him 35 years ago.

“With these cuts, I’m not sure how long we can maintain the same level of service to our citizens,” Schofield said.

The district attorney’s office also is feeling the pinch. It lost eight unfilled attorney slots and two support jobs.

In all, 60 jobs have been phased out or eliminated in the past two years, District Attorney David Roger said.

“Our office is hemorrhaging badly,” Roger said. “It makes the job harder. It hurts morale and increases the chance of burnout among employees.”

There are 98 criminal prosecutors and 22 civil attorneys to handle tens of thousands of cases that go through District Court each year, he said, adding that “something has to give.”

Some department heads who lost personnel say they will make do.

Real Property Management will lose 13 filled jobs and 17 vacant ones, the most of any department. Most of the affected workers do maintenance or housecleaning. Routine upkeep such as changing air filters, trimming shrubs and picking up trash will be done a little less often, said Carel Carter, the department’s acting director.

Public Works will cut six filled positions and seven vacant ones. Reducing staff will cause stress for a while because the Regional Transportation Commission is now pushing through road projects, including the North Fifth Street interchange on the Las Vegas Beltway, said Denis Cederburg, public works director.

“That’s our challenge in the short term,” Cederburg said.

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

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