Rory Reid talks about county cutbacks, offers few specifics

Labor costs must be reduced, job-creating projects must get started and the University Medical Center must change to a different business model if Clark County is to solve its financial problems, County Commission Chairman Rory Reid said today.

Reid, who is running for governor, presented a plan he said would result in “sweeping changes to overhaul the way the county does business.”

His plan gave broad-brush strategies such as negotiating with unions to cut labor costs, teaming up with the private sector to create jobs and eliminating redundancies in government.

But it lacked details for how to fix the estimated $126 million shortfall in the next fiscal year and avoid future budget crunches.

Reid said he couldn’t give even a rough estimate of how many people might be laid off. But he said jobs with the most duplication probably would be the first to go, such as maintenance, human resources and information technology.

He unveiled the plan the day before commissioners were scheduled to discuss layoffs.

It was also a few days before a task force he spearheaded was scheduled to make final recommendations for handling the county’s financial woes.

Families across the region are forced to tighten their belts in the tough economy, Reid said. “Government should be expected to do the same thing.”

Reid said he released his plan before the task force compiled its report because he felt a sense of urgency.

He said nothing in his plan contradicts the ideas that the Committee on Community Priorities has offered so far.

He said he wasn’t just showing fiscal leadership to strengthen his bid for governor. He insisted the political benefit was “unknowable.”

“This might hurt me. This might help me,” he said.

Reid said when he and county staff meet with unions in the next several weeks, everything will be on the table.

A union representative, however, said the bargaining will be limited to how money can be saved, as opposed to picking through the entire contract for the county’s roughly 9,500 workers.

Members of the county’s largest union last year agreed to have their cost-of-living raises shaved to 1 percent from 3 percent, plus they must work around 750 unfilled vacancies.

“Essentially they’re asking their employees to do more with less,” said Amber Lopez Lasater, spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union Local 1107.

In return for the concessions, the union’s contract was extended to 2011, but with the condition that the county could reopen bargaining this year if economic hardships persisted.

Lopez Lasater said it would be unprecedented for the county to suggest wage rollbacks as the city of Las Vegas has for its employees. But then, this is an exceptionally bad recession, she added.

“In this climate, it’s hard to say what the county will come to the table with,” she said.

Reid’s plan calls for trimming and consolidating management. The county’s top brass began cutting managerial jobs during the holidays and are expected to give a tally to commissioners Tuesday .

Reid also recommended getting road-improvement and other projects under way to create jobs, an effort he described as building the community’s “economic confidence.”

He said UMC must transform into a nonprofit or teaching hospital or some other business model. It can’t continue draining taxpayers’ money to this extent, he said, pegging last year’s subsidy at $140 million.

UMC’s biggest loss was due to uninsured patients who don’t pay, he said, noting that a public hospital must treat them.

If the county divested itself from the hospital, it would still be responsible for aiding impoverished patients, but without all the overhead, Reid said.

Reid suggested following the advice of the task force “as much as is feasible.” He agreed with one suggestion by the panel that the county’s labor costs are unsustainable in the long term.

Some panel members have criticized the firefighters’ wages and benefits, saying they must be reduced. Last year, 62 of the 100 top-paid county employees were firefighters.

The firefighters’ contract comes up for renewal this year. Reid said he hopes union leaders recognize the county’s financial bind and give some ground.

Attorney Keen Ellsworth, a task force member, said all departments should cut their budgets by at least 5 percent. Late last year, many departments fell short of a 5 percent target because it would have required layoffs.

“The problem is department heads don’t want to do it,” Ellsworth said.

“If they don’t want to do it, the county manager should step in and do it.”

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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