Nevada prisons boss gets staff furlough leeway

CARSON CITY — Nevada’s prison system chief has been given another month to find ways to give guards and other staffers moneysaving furloughs mandated by the state Legislature.

Lawmakers told state workers to take one day off each month without pay — amounting to a 4.6 percent pay cut — starting July 1. But Corrections Director Howard Skolnik told the state Board of Examiners on Tuesday he needs more time to ensure public safety isn’t threatened.

The board, chaired by Gov. Jim Gibbons, gave Skolnik a month to produce a staffing plan showing which of his more than 1,800 staffers could or couldn’t take time off.

The furloughs for all state employees are designed to save the state an estimated $333 million during the current two-year budget cycle, which opened on July 1. The 2009 Legislature came up with the time-off plan in trying to cope with a huge state revenue shortfall

"We can’t just ask the inmates to behave overnight and leave them alone," Skolnik said in asking for the extra planning time.

Skolnik said possible ways of saving staff time could include mothballing security towers and relying on guards in vehicles patrolling prison perimeters. Other options could include inmate lockdowns, visiting room closures and fewer medical staff hours.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Board of Examiners member, said she was concerned about potential lawsuits if security problems developed. She also questioned whether an extra month for planning was enough time.

Skolnik said he could finish the staff planning within the allotted time. He also repeated earlier remarks that prison safety is paramount, and he’d quit rather than adopt a staffing arrangement that might endanger any of the prison system staffers.

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger told the board that only $4 million was earmarked for government agencies seeking exemptions from the furlough mandate — and the cost of no prison system furloughs would be more than double that amount.

But Clinger also said the lawmakers’ Interim Finance Committee, which has about $15 million to handle any fiscal crises between now and the regular 2011 session, could be asked for extra funds on an emergency basis to help cover costs of furlough exemptions.

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