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Ways to save services sought

The bleak prospect of neglecting the elderly and homeless to offset the legislative revenue grab drew sympathy Tuesday from Clark County commissioners who acted determined to avoid cutting social services.

Emotional testimony from those who aid the elderly swayed commissioners, making the advocates feel hopeful that programs for the county’s poorest and most infirm residents might be saved.

A few commissioners made clear that they would rather eliminate programs and lay off workers in other departments than deny care to the “most vulnerable.”

“I think that’s something we have to do because I don’t think we have any choice,” Commissioner Rory Reid said.

At the commissioners’ urging, County Manager Virginia Valentine said she would meet with the county employees’ union and supervisors to discuss an alternative she could bring back to the commission in early August.

About two dozen people showed up at the commission meeting to display their outrage at the county’s plans to cut services for the elderly.

Those services include home care programs that aid them after they have been hospitalized and delay placement into nursing homes. The county also is considering scrapping a program that investigates neglect and abuse of elderly patients.

“I think this is immoral and unethical to do to the weakest elements of our society,” said Scott Rader, a home care aide for the elderly. “Let’s not throw our seniors under a bus. They deserve better.”

The state’s dipping into county coffers caused social services to lose $9.3 million this year for nonmedical care to the homeless and elderly. Escalating demand on the agency during the recession is further depleting its budget.

Nancy McLane, the county’s social services director, described how reduced funding would slice into programs that were getting strong results.

This year the county was able to house 82 percent of people who would be homeless otherwise, McLane said. And it provided medical care to 22,000 uninsured patients, including oncology and life-saving treatments, she said.

Shrinking funds will diminish those services and lead to job cuts, McLane said.

The agency is set to lay off all of its part-time help and trim 23 percent of its full-time staff, she said.

That has led to pending plans to close the agency’s office at the Fertitta Community Assistance Center near Main Street and Owens Avenue on July 15.

Closing the Fertitta office, which is about 21/2 miles from the Pinto Lane office, made more sense than shuttering the one that’s 15 miles away in Henderson, McLane said.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said the county surely can scrape up $9.3 million from its billion-dollar operating budget.

“We are not going to turn away our most vulnerable,” she said.

Staffing can be snipped in other areas, she said. For instance, she questioned why so many departments have public information officers and human-resource assistants. Management grew intensively in the past few years, yet remains untouched, Giunchigliani said.

Commissioner Larry Brown said the county must be willing to set priorities, such as social services, and know that saving those programs will mean eliminating other services and jobs.

Preserving the Fertitta office will be tricky because its funding is capped according to the property tax rate, McLane said. When the state took 4 cents from the property tax rate it lowered the funding ceiling, she said.

Augmenting the funds for elderly services will be easier because they’re not subject to this cap, she said.

Reid, who’s expected to run for governor, slammed the budget that Gov. Jim Gibbons crafted, saying the impact on the poor and elderly is further proof that it was “irresponsible and short-sighted.”

Richard Long, a social worker, said he was pleased at the turn the meeting took.

“I’m very happy to see them re-evaluating our cuts,” Long said. “There are so many needy people out there that we can help.”

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

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