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Judges, others plead for staff

It was the bureaucratic version of American Idol Wednesday, with judges, the head public defender and district attorney auditioning for Clark County Commissioners about their needs for more staff.

There were requests for more judges to handle case loads, more deputy public defenders, more money for the court system.

Then there was the longshot request offered up by Commissioner Tom Collins at the last minute — the Sanjaya of the various proposals. He threw in the need for more county staffers to tackle the apparent problem of people illegally mixing diesel fuel in their homes.

The budget workshop on Wednesday represented round one in the wrangling over the budget for the largest and most influential entity in the state. The discussion during the morning session did not go into depth about the large, one-time projects such as parks and fire stations that commissioners will eventually have to horse trade over.

But the county has little wiggle room right now to address what officials say are growing needs in the county to add more staff.

They have a self-imposed cap on the budget’s growth from year to year. They continue to subsidize the University Medical Center, and have already committed to add 181 new positions next year, including 119 to take care of children under the county’s supervision and 40 to staff a low-level offender detention center that is being built.

After that, $900,000 is left to add positions.

More than 1,000 jobs have been requested by county department heads and other staff.

“It’s about priorities,” said commission Chairman Rory Reid. “Every year, staff in the county wants us to remember them first. And every year we struggle to provide services that people need.”

Judges turned out to make their pleas that positions in their departments be filled.

District Judge Arthur Ritchie Jr., the presiding judge for Family Court, said: “We talk about community priorities, and access to justice is a community priority to be proud of.”

District Judge Bill Voy made a plea for more staff for juvenile court.

“We want to prevent kids from going into the adult system, and we need some help,” he said. He called the system “overly burdened.”

Judge Douglas Smith, representing Las Vegas Justice Court, was next.

He called it the busiest court in the United States. “We’re near a crisis in the civil division,” he said.

District Attorney David Roger came next. He said new cops on the streets are leading to more arrests, more recommendations for prosecution and more cases that have to be worked by deputy district attorneys.

Finally came Public Defender Philip Kohn, armed with charts.

He said his deputy public defenders averaged 364 felony cases a year, while the maximum recommended amount was 150 per year.

No decisions were made about where to add staff.

County Manager Virginia Valentine informed the commissioners that the budget is a working document, and they could talk to her and staff about their desires up until the budget has to be approved in May.

Most of the commissioners didn’t give any public indication of where they wanted staff added. Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani brought up the need for a larger neighborhood services staff to address community needs.

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