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County launches budget challenge

by Sheila Gardner
sgardner@recordcourier.com
Assistant County Manager and Chief Financial Officer Christine Vuletich demonstrates the "open budget challenge" in 2012r on the county's website. The program allows participants to budget a fictional $500 in county funds to determine what priorities are important to taxpayers.
Jim Grant | R-C file photo

Fewer than 90 participants in a countywide online survey might not sound like an overwhelming endorsement. But it represented a significant response to officials trying to engage taxpayers in how the county spends its money.

“If you had 87 people show up at a county commission meeting on the budget process to offer their input, that would be huge,” said County Manager Steve Mokrohisky.

“When the subject is taxes or water rates, we pack the (commission) room, but when it comes to spending $120 million of taxpayers’ money, one or two individuals might show up,” he said.



For a second year, the county has launched the online budget challenge inviting residents to set priorities for an imaginary $500 to be divided among county services.

Last year’s exercise prompted county officials to shift $1 million to the road system that they say has been woefully underfunded for 20 years.



“We want to hear from more people,” Mokrohisky said. “I can’t say enough about how impactful their input was.”

This year, the county has sweetened the offer.

Participants who complete the Budget Challenge Forum can enter to win a spa package and dinner at David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort using social media.

By tweeting “I finished the Douglas County #budgetchallenge http://bit.ly/17fI4X1 4 a chance 2 win a Spa Pkg & Dinner @ David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort,” or changing their Facebook status, they are entered in the drawing.

Anyone without Internet access can come to the Minden Inn and complete the challenge online or use the Douglas County Public Library.

Mokrohisky cited several steps the county has implemented in the face of ongoing budget challenges the past few years.

“In order to manage the reduction in revenues and increase in expenses, positions have been eliminated, regional partnerships and privatization have been initiated, and employees have absorbed increases in health insurance and retirement costs, as well as salary cuts,” he said.

“More than 65 full-time positions have been eliminated and many more positions continue to be held vacant to reduce costs. In 2011 county employees took up to 5 percent pay cuts, which have not been fully restored, and also receive no merit pay increases.”

The county and its employees have agreed to three-year personnel cost management efforts that have helped stabilize the long-term growth in expenses.

Residents have an opportunity to make general comments about the process, upload photos or videos to illustrate concerns.

The comment period runs through 5 p.m. Dec. 2.

Participants are asked to distribute the $500 in six categories.

They include economic vitality; managed growth and development; preservation of natural environment, resources and cultural heritage; reliable infrastructure; safe community and financial stability.

Participants can access the Budget Challenge at http://www.douglascountynv.gov, and click on Open Douglas County; or http://www.peakdemocracy.com/1537 or by texting “subscribe” to 775-309-4358.

The online registration asks for name, email address and physical address.

Mokrohisky said registration information is secure and will not be shared with any outside party.

“The physical address will allow responses from geographic areas within the county to be viewed, but the county and public will not be able to see the names of individual participants unless the participants chose to display their name,” he said.

Participants can choose from a quick, 5-minute version or the longer form estimated at 15 minutes.

The longer form includes more sub-results.

Each version allows the participant to establish new priorities.