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How to bail out some social services? Firefighters should forgo raise

Clark County commissioners, after hearing emotional pleas from social services workers, told county managers to find another place to cut $9.3 million from the county budget, instead of squeezing it out of Clark County Social Services.

Easy for them to say.

County managers are already trying to find places to cut because of the $180 million diverted from the county to the state over the next two years. Friday was the deadline for county departments to suggest where they’d cut 5 percent of their budgets to save $65 million this year.

But even if the $9.3 million could be found, say with a wave of a magic wand that would do the impossible and reduce the budget-busting retirement and health benefits due county employees, there’s still a problem.

Under the law governing the funding of indigent services through property taxes, County Manager Virginia Valentine can’t just move dollars from the general fund to the indigent fund unless there’s a medical emergency, and housing and home care aren’t medical emergencies.

County officials may be able to find the $2.4 million to keep funding two successful programs — Senior Citizens Protective Service and Homemaker Home Health Aide Program. But the remaining $7 million for other indigent services would have to come from donations or grants to be legal, county officials say.

Anybody have a spare $7 million hanging around? Feel like helping someone whose income is less than $250 a month? That’s the income of 90 percent of the clients at Clark County Social Services.

Finding $9.3 million to cut someplace else in a $1.3 billion annual budget isn’t as easy as it sounds.

But after Social Services employees touched hearts as they spoke of their frail and elderly clients at Tuesday’s meeting, all seven county commissioners gave mini-speeches, and it’s interesting to note places they suggested would be worth checking out for cuts.

Commission Chairman Rory Reid explained the county’s options were limited because of the property tax caps on indigent spending. His idea: “We need to reach out to the community, nonprofits and other well-meaning people.”

(Rory, you’ve already hit up billionaire Kirk Kerkorian for oncology services at the county hospital. How about calling UFC Commissioner Dana White, the Bishop Gorman High grad now worth $200 million?)

Commissioner Steve Sisolak was quotable, but light on specifics. “I am dismayed that the state raided our fund. These are real people in real life being affected here, and for some reason the Legislature didn’t listen to us,” he said. “These burdens shouldn’t have been placed on the backs of people who need walkers and wheelchairs to get around.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Sisolak, Larry Brown and Susan Brager all blamed Nevada legislators (not Gov. Jim Gibbons) for swiping $180 million in property taxes from Clark County to fund state programs. “They made the decision; it’s up to us now to fix the damage they have done,” Brown said.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take to have people say, ‘We’re not going to take this any more,’ ” Brager said.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani and Commissioner Lawrence Weekly opposed closing down the county social services office at the Fertitta Community Assistance Center, the one-stop shop for social services. Yet that will close, unless some grant or donation is forthcoming, because of the restriction on transferring general fund dollars to the indigent account. Giunchigliani suggested the county seek a waiver from the Interim Finance Committee to try to use general fund money.

Commissioner Tom Collins mentioned A.D. Hopkins’ story in the Review-Journal about firefighters who get extra pay during the three years before they retire so they can receive bigger pensions, sometimes more than their base salaries.

What about those firefighters? I know it’s a radical idea, but what if they volunteered to give up 3 percent cost-of-living raises starting July 1, saving $3.6 million? They’d still get their regular raises.

The cops gave up theirs.

County management and members of the Service Employees Union Local 1107 gave up their increases, saving a combined $13.5 million.

It’s time for firefighters to do the right thing and surrender their raises without playing let’s make a deal. That’s money that could help some social services programs that are in such dire need.

Frankly, by fighting for every penny they’re entitled to under their union contracts, the firefighters are looking less like team players and life-saving heroes and more like piglets.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison/.

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