State spends for fire costs but saves money on Katrina efforts

The Nevada Board of Examiners approved $2.7 million Tuesday to cover the bills from this year's wild land fire season.

But examiners were able to cancel plans to spend $3.6 million to cover up-front costs of Nevada's efforts to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Director of Administration Perry Comeaux said the expenditure from the state's contingency fund is necessary to pay the bills ranging from firefighter salaries and costs incurred by local emergency agencies to contracts with private firms, such as those which provide air tankers to douse fires. He said most of the fire claims will be reimbursed to the state by the federal government.

Also on the agenda was a request to allocate $3.6 million from the contingency fund to pay up-front costs of deploying up to 10 military, medical, security and logistical support teams to Louisiana and Mississippi. Those teams will be in the Gulf helping in the wake of Hurricane Katrina for up to a month.

Comeaux said that item can be withdrawn because the federal government has agreed to directly activate the guard units.

That means the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay all costs from salaries to fuel for helicopters and C-130 cargo planes Nevada sends to the scene rather than having the state pay it and then bill federal agencies for reimbursement.

In other business, the board:

• Approved a $7 million contract to provide wood chips to the planned biomass generator at Northern Nevada Correctional Center. The board approved construction of the plant, which will provide electric power and heating at the prison, last month. Tuesday, they approved a contract for Carson City Renewable Resources to chip the wood collected from federal lands including the Waterfall fire area and deliver it to the prison.

Prison officials say both construction and fuel costs from the biomass plant will be covered by the savings in utility bills at the prison.

• Deferred action on a request for $203,445 to replace the billing and clinical computer system at the Nevada State Veterans Home. Gov. Kenny Guinn, chairman of the board of examiners, said they should have raised the issue during the Legislature.

Comeaux explained that the existing system has become "very unreliable and lends itself to errors in patient records which they consider a dangerous situation." He said if they wait until the next Legislature, it would be almost three years before a new system is installed.

Guinn said in that case Veterans' Services needs to come to the next board meeting and better explain both the need and why it wasn't brought up in time for the Legislature to consider.

Secretary of State Dean Heller and Attorney General Brian Sandoval agreed and the issue was rescheduled for next month's meeting.

• Approved $30,000 to buy high-speed scanning equipment to turn federal court filings into electronic documents. Beginning Jan. 1, all federal court filings by the state must be in electronic form.

Heller pointed out those fancy machines are worth a fraction of their cost within months of purchase. He suggested the Purchasing Division and Sandoval's staff look into a lease-purchase deal instead of buying them. That would also enable them to trade up to new technology as it becomes available.

Purchasing Administrator Greg Smith agreed and said he would do so.

• Agreed to let the controller, prisons and DMV write off a total of $3.1 million in bad debts. Of that, the $21,345 owed to the state in 49 payroll accounts is the smallest figure.

The Department of Corrections is writing off $1.17 million in bad debt, mostly owed by ex-inmates and stretching back to January 2000. DMV is writing off $1.9 million in amounts determined to be uncollectable. Many of the individuals owing that money have left the state.

• Allocated $750,000 to Nevada's counties to reimburse the expense of implementing property tax relief approved by the 2005 Legislature. Comeaux told the board almost all of that is the costs of notifying taxpayers, sending new tax bills and the costs of computer programming changes to apply the tax reductions to every parcel of land in the state. He said he expects more costs to use the remaining $250,000 in the fund lawmakers created to help counties - especially the rural counties - pay for implementing the property tax caps and reductions.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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