County budget ready for May 18 deadline

Douglas County is ready to turn over a $121.7 balanced budget by May 18 as required by state law in the face of declining revenues and uncertainty about what the Nevada Legislature has in mind.

For the past two years, officials have juggled declines in gaming, room tax, gas taxes, and interest earnings and a smaller increase in property taxes, placing the county's revenue side of the budget is under "major duress."

At last week's county commissioner meeting, County Manager T. Michael Brown outlined the budgeting process.

Staff used a combination of priority-based and proportional share budgeting to make up a $1.5 million shortfall in the general fund.

"Proportional share is across-the-board," Brown said. "All county departments share equally in reductions."

For example, if there is a $1 million deficit, and a department makes up 10 percent of the budget, the expectation is that department cuts 10 percent of its budget.

The toll was heaviest on the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Ron Pierini cut $665,000 which included layoffs of clerical personnel and leaving positions open for two deputies and an investigator.

That drew a protest from County Commissioner Dave Brady on Thursday.

"Once again, we're balancing the budget on the back of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office," Brady said. "It's supposed to be across-the-board budgeting, but we're gutting a department. It's supposed to be priority budgeting, yet we're taking two deputies and an investigator off the street. It's unfair, unreasonable and unnecessary to ask this of the sheriff's office."

In an interview Friday, Pierini said since his budget makes up 40 percent of the general fund, he was responsible for 40 percent of the shortfall.

"It's sad. One of the toughest things I've ever been through is to let people go. It's not something I ever wanted to do."

But, Pierini said, he took the county's directive to heart.

"We took a long time to go through, and see what we could consolidate and disperse out. The downside is that we will not be able to serve the public as well as we used to," he said.

Pierini said the department has to balance public safety with the budget cuts.

"I think we'll be OK," he said. "But I'll be the first one up to the podium when times get better and ask for positions back."

Next year, Pierini said, if the financial picture is the same, he's going to ask commissioners what they want him to cut.

"We did our part this year, but my feeling is that some people didn't do theirs. Next year, the county will have to give us direction. These are valuable positions we let go," Pierini said.

Complicating the financial picture is uncertainty about what the Nevada Legislature will do, and ongoing negotiations with representatives of the county's employee associations.

Brown said $155,000 was cut by eliminating merit raises for nonrepresented employees.

"By showing that leadership, we hope we're sending a message to the community we understand their challenges," Brown said.

Part of priority budgeting is priority planning, Brown said in an interview Friday.

"We looked at the board priorities and our core and mandatory services," he said. "That's been the basis for cuts the last two years. We looked at the more discretionary-type services like the library, parks, recreation and community development. Those cuts were already made. Now, we suggest it is time to tap into those other services."

None of it is easy, he said.

"You recognize the type and magnitude of the crisis you're in and make decisions on as credible information as you have," Brown said. "You have to make difficult decisions without delay. It didn't happen overnight, and you can't delay the inevitable."

Brown said contingency plans are in place to meet whatever happens with the Legislature and employee associations.

"If the next wave comes, there will be some kind of pay reduction and, or furloughs," he said.

He told commissioners that 70 positions " 15 percent of the county's workforce " had been left vacant.

"Our county elected and appointed leaders felt it would not be right to give raises and other increases in compensation to county employees when our businesses are either struggling or closing, and we are laying off our fellow county employees to balance our budgets," Brown said in his report to commissioners.

"To the extent we can, we want the public to know that we're facing what they're facing. We're not saying it mirrors " we have certain mandated programs we can't cut " but we work really hard to look at the expenditure side which we should," Brown said.

Brown said county officials are staying positive.

"You've got to deal with the fires, but you can't lose site of what's important. We've go to look down the road, we're here for perpetuity. We've got a vision of what it should be," he said.

"The level of generosity in our community is really, really high. It makes you feel good," he said. "When things build back up, we'll be ready."


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment