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Henderson City Council approves 2014 budget

By City Manager Jacob Snow’s definition, Henderson is not a “premier city” yet, but it’s getting close.

Snow likes to say that Henderson cannot meet its goal of being a premier city without a balanced budget. Although it doesn’t have one yet, Snow predicts it will by the end of fiscal 2014.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” the city manager said last week. “There’s no doubt about that.”

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Henderson City Council approved a $480 million budget for fiscal 2014, which begins July 1. After years of cuts, the city’s new spending plan has a slight increase — just a few thousand dollars — over the current budget.

City officials also are projecting a $7.2 million general fund deficit. At this time last year, they were projecting a $13.5 million deficit.

Snow said the new budget does not include savings generated by the latest round of the city’s Voluntary Employee Severance Program, which uses one-time incentives to help workers make the transition to retirement or other employment.

The city manager said those savings, combined with additional revenue from the Legislature and any unspent portion of the budget, could lead to a balanced budget.

“All that has to be tempered with the cost of the new health care law, and there are more questions than answers at this point as to how that’s going to play out,” Snow said.

Henderson officials say the city has fared better than other local entities by quickly addressing the economic downturn, which caused unprecedented declines in sales and property taxes, and by fostering strong relationships with employees groups.

Property tax revenue fell from the $85.7 million peak in fiscal 2009 to an estimated $57.3 million in fiscal 2013 — a 33 percent drop. Revenue is expected to show a small increase in the coming fiscal year — to $58.5 million.

Consolidated tax revenue, which consists mostly of sales tax money, has been rising steadily in recent years. Nevertheless, the projected revenue of $86.3 million for fiscal 2014 is 16 percent below the $103 million peak in fiscal 2006.

“We’re still a long way off from seeing the types of recovery and revenues that we saw back in 2005 and 2006,” city spokesman Bud Cranor said.

The city successfully asked all employee groups to take 2 percent less in fiscal 2013 and 2014.

Overall, Henderson has reduced spending by more than $127 million since 2008 while avoiding massive layoffs and union fights.

“This has been a long journey for us,” city Finance Director Richard Derrick said.

Henderson has cut hundreds of jobs outside of the public safety field, or 16 percent of its workforce, over the past five years. Most of the staff cuts were achieved through the voluntary severance plan.

Fred Horvath, human resources director, said the program has resulted in total savings of $54.7 million since 2008.

He said 87 people have decided to take part in the latest round, and another five have until the end of December to decide whether they will leave and accept the program’s benefit. Those five already have taken pay cuts and moved into alternative positions in the city.

Since the program’s inception, about 70 percent of the vacated positions have remained unfilled.

Officials have said they do not expect to offer the program again in the future.

“We are not anticipating further layoffs or other cuts,” Snow said.

The city manager said Henderson residents still enjoy a low tax rate and great services.

“If we cut additional employees, it’s going to be very difficult for us to continue to produce, and we’re noticing that,” Snow said.

Of the five cities in Clark County, only North Las Vegas has a lower employee-to-citizen ratio than Henderson, which has 6.8 employees for every 1,000 residents.

Henderson has about 1,800 full-time employees. The city’s population has continued to grow over the past year, from nearly 267,000 to nearly 271,000.

The fiscal 2014 budget includes the addition of 15 positions, but Derrick said they will be funded by special revenue rather than the general fund. For instance, seven jobs will be added to the Development Services Center, which is funded by developer fees.

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

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