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Miller calls for look at cuts by Skolnik

CARSON CITY — A member of the Nevada Prison Commission butted heads with the head of the Corrections Department on Tuesday over the most recent round of cuts being implemented to help balance the state budget.

Secretary of State Ross Miller, one of three members of the board, said a one-page summary of cuts being implemented by Director Howard Skolnik to meet a 2.9 percent spending reduction was insufficient for him to make a decision about whether the right choices were made.

Miller questioned Skolnik at length about the decision-making process that led to the specific cuts, which includes the elimination of a 5 percent pay enhancement for correctional officers working the swing shift for a savings of about $700,000. About 450 officers will be affected when it takes effect July 21.

Skolnik said the elimination of what is called a "pay differential" for the swing shift was the only option available to him short of closing another minimum security conservation camp and laying off employees.

"Seriously, we’re out of options," he told the board, which also includes Gov. Jim Gibbons and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

Skolnik said he is willing to listen to other options from officers for achieving the savings, short of closing another facility.

As part of a plan to balance the budget, lawmakers asked the Department of Corrections, along with other state agencies, to make cuts that will average just under 3 percent. The cuts are on top of previous spending reductions.

The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee will review the cuts at its meeting in September.

However, Miller asked for a delay in the approval of the cuts until the board had more information. The board also agreed to have an existing committee studying correctional issues review the budget information and make a report at its next meeting in October.

Miller said the board has a duty to oversee the Corrections Department, a duty that cannot be accomplished without adequate information.

But Skolnik said he is implementing the cuts now in order to achieve the reduction target set by lawmakers.

The budget cuts, which total about $8.1 million in the latest round, do not include closing the Nevada State Prison in Carson City, a facility that dates back to 1862.

Skolnik had earlier proposed closing the antiquated prison to meet the budget cut targets, but lawmakers want a more thorough review of the idea before proceeding. Skolnik said it will remain a potential option as long as the state faces ongoing budget problems.

As part of an earlier round of budget cuts, the Department of Corrections decided to close the Southern Nevada Correctional Center in Jean. Also being closed is the Silver Springs Conservation Camp east of the capital.

The Jean closure resulted in only three layoffs of medical personnel. Nearly 200 other employees at the two facilities were absorbed into other institutions, Skolnik said.

Tens of millions of dollars worth of construction projects also have been eliminated to help reduce spending within the department by $85 million.

The budget shortfall for all state agencies and public education totals $1.2 billion for the current two-year budget.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

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