Task force votes on budget fix-it list

Most members of a 15-person task force think Clark County should trim wages, slash some jobs and lessen University Medical Center’s burden on taxpayers.

The Committee on Community Priorities voted Thursday on strategies for dealing with the county’s growing shortfall, which is expected to reach $126 million next budget year. The vote, done with unsigned 15-page ballots, caps off months of talks.

County staff will compile the recommendations into a report and present it to commissioners later this month.

Panel members sifted through dozens, perhaps hundreds, of strategies for reducing costs and boosting efficiency.

Many agreed with one option that said wages take up $1.2 billion of the county’s $1.5 billion general fund, and so the only way to really reduce costs is to cut staff hours, wages and benefits.

Virtually all members favored consolidating services to eliminate redundant jobs. They differed, though, on which services should be merged.

Most thought the Fire Department’s wages were too high. Some voted to put a clause in all county labor contracts that would require reduced pay during extreme economic hardship.

"I hope the County Commission takes our votes to heart," said panel member Michael Holloway, a manager at Poggemeyer Design Group Inc. "I’m sorry there will be some suffering, but that’s what’s happening across the country."

Two of the panel’s labor leaders refused to vote.

They argued that the ballot was stacked too heavily toward reducing wages, benefits and jobs. In a three-page rebuttal they accused county managers of imposing an anti-labor agenda on the panel and pushing it away from its original goal of prioritizing services.

"It was clear from the start that this committee was being used by county management to push their agenda of placing the burden of the financial problems on the backs of rank-and-file workers," wrote Al Martinez, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1107.

David Peter, another SEIU representative, co-signed the rebuttal.

Panelists received the voting packets last week to give them time to study the options. Each page contains a category such as "consolidation within county operations" or "staffing/resource reductions." And each category has a list of possible actions.

Panel members ranked the recommendations they liked and could cast votes for multiple options in each category. Though the ballots were unsigned, county staff said each was labeled with the name of the person casting the ballot. The Nevada open meeting law requires that deliberations be made in public.

A half-dozen members voted to sell UMC to a for-profit company. Most, however, favored retaining a business structure that would allow the hospital to continue offering charity care.

Michael Collins, a UMC nurse, said the hospital gets bad publicity but people should remember the service it provides.

Police officers who are wounded are brought to UMC, as are terminally ill patients, Collins told the panel Thursday.

When asked what the mood was like among hospital employees, Collins replied, "People are scared."

Nurses and other skilled employees oppose having their pay cut because their jobs demand a lot of education and training, he said.

Nearly all committee members wanted to rein in firefighters’ overtime. Some thought the Fire Department should be reorganized, some thought it should be audited and others believed the solution is to hire more firefighters.

A few voted for "brown-outs," a term for shutting down some fire stations for a day. Some wanted to slash firefighters’ paramedic duties and assign all emergency care to ambulance companies. And several preferred to consolidate all fire departments in the valley without being required to take the most lucrative labor contract.

Panel member George Togliatti, a Mandalay Bay security officer, questioned whether park police were necessary. He argued that the Metropolitan Police Department could patrol parks.

Most members voted to leave family services at its current staffing and funding level. Only a couple supported merging family services and social services.

Finance, parks and business licensing were commonly marked for consolidation. Several members even recommended merging the municipal courts.

Cornelius Eason, a panel member and president of Priority Staffing, said layoffs must be done with care.

"You can only cut so much before you get into the muscle of the organization," Eason said.

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

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