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County department heads must find ways to cut staffing by 8 percent

Clark County department heads must figure out in the next 10 days how to cut staffing by 8 percent to help offset a $57 million budget shortfall.

County Manager Virginia Valentine told county commissioners Tuesday that she has asked most departments to submit plans for staff reductions by May so the county can meet its June 1 deadline for sending a balanced budget to the state.

Under this scenario, University Medical Center, which employs 4,000 people, would lose 320 workers. The Fire Department would lay off 65 of its roughly 815 employees.

Valentine’s order will affect only the departments that are paid for with the general operating fund. It won’t apply to those funded with user fees, such as McCarran International Airport and development services.

And not every department will take an 8 percent snip in personnel. Commissioners have said they don’t support cutting all departments by the same rate. Social services are less expendable than, say, maintenance, Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said.

"Part of our job is to determine what our core services are and make sure that (with) our most vulnerable citizens — children, the elderly — we don’t treat them the same as a roadway," she said.

Representatives from county’s largest employee union didn’t return calls seeking comment Tuesday, but in an e-mail, the head of the firefighters union said a firefighter’s average base wage is $22.87 an hour.

"Base pay isn’t the problem," said Ryan Beaman, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1908. "The problem is overtime, and if the county makes cuts in the number of firefighters, overtime will simply increase even more."

Slashing personnel by 8 percent would narrow the budget gap by about $30 million, county officials estimate.

The county would need to lay off 530 people or trim wages and benefits by 14 percent to offset the entire shortfall, according to a budget forecast.

Average pay and benefits last year were $81,000 for a union employee, $162,000 for a prosecutor and $187,000 for a firefighter.

Finance Director George Stevens said the county might be able to cover about $7 million of the shortfall by adjusting things such as long-term debt and insurance premiums. But concessions from unions and cuts in personnel will be needed to balance the budget, Stevens said.

Giunchigliani said furloughs and reduced health care are among the topics that could be discussed during bargaining.

County spokesman Erik Pappa said laying off 530 workers to solve budget problems might be too much.

"Everybody realizes you can’t lay off that many people without drastically affecting services," he said.

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