County looks at budget cuts | RecordCourier.com

County looks at budget cuts

Lorna McDaniel

To solve the $200,000 general fund deficit the county still faces after three days of budget hearings, commissioners directed staff to consolidate where reduction of staff would be implemented.

Commissioner Don Miner said, “The only way to balance the budget and free up some money is to consolidate.”

Reduction of staff is the only way to make permanent changes to balance the budget, County Manager Dan Holler said, taking into consideration that the board had set policy to not balance the budget through reserves or impose a broad-base tax rate.

The $19 million general fund fell short because of a flat sales tax, Holler added.

Staff reduction by 5-1/2 full-time positions was factored into the tentative budget and accepted, with the commissioners asking that eight to nine positions be cut.

The proposed eliminated positions would free about $700,000, which would balance the budget this year, Holler said. The surplus would dwindle to give time for implementation of layoffs, but the entire amount would be available for priority projects next year.

The county will operate without two sheriff’s deputies, a community development clerk, and a building inspector. A planning and building position will be consolidated and the internal auditor will go to a 30-hour-a-week position.

The two deputy positions are in jail operations and are vacant. These positions will not reduce the number of patrol officers.

The commission rejected taking the code enforcement officer to half time for a savings of $25,000, saying a full-time officer was needed to handle the 800 to 900 cases a year.

Holler said staff reductions would be made unless the departments can provide an alternative.

Commissioners also asked staff to identify departments that are money makers that might be expanded.

Miner revisited the idea of making the County Administrative Building at Stateline a sheriff’s sub-station, and housing all inmates of the Lake jail at the larger of the two facilities in the Valley. He said this would free up the staff and facility for the possibility of a regional juvenile detention center.

He explained that the county does not have this type of short-term detention with China Spring Youth Camp, a facility for use by offenders who are court-ordered. Instead, Douglas County sends all of their youth awaiting trail or sentencing to Carson City’s facility.

He said he realized the added cost to transport inmates but thought that could be reduced with video arraignment

Commissioner Bernie Curtis suggested the use of part-time employees until the county is fiscally sound.

Miner agreed, saying that county employees should be paid well at a competitive rate with good benefits, “just not as many as we have.”

Commissioner Kelly Kite said he would support increased employment if it would pay for itself. A few departments saw this reflected and were exempt from the hiring freeze passed in February.

Dick Mirgon, director of county communications, asked to be able to recruit for his dispatch positions to provide for the health and safety of the community.

He said he has been able to fund much of his own program by providing service to and charging other entities such as the Washoe Tribe and Alpine County. The commission voted to allow Mirgon to expand or consolidate service to gain new revenue.

Judge Jim EnEarl requested two positions for the East Fork Justice Court. He said he needed an alternative sentencing officer because he had nobody to enforce drug testing. The position would be funded 75 percent by a grant and he needed a match from the county.

He explained that the position would pay for itself through an increase in the number of tests and by charging more for the test.

He said he also wanted to instigate a work program for inmates.

Without the position he said, “I can’t do that because I have no way to track those activities.”

EnEarl also got the clerk position he asked for. He said the clerk, who would coordinate the collection of out-of-state fines, would more than offset the cost of salary.

EnEarl said he didn’t want to increase fines.

“Just because (people) speed, doesn’t mean they should balance your budget,” he said to the commission.

Senior Nutrition will be able to recruit for a cook which will be a temporary position.

Douglas County District Attorney’s office will get a child support caseworker but might have to compromise a legal secretary to get it.

Douglas County Airport predicted officials predicted they could hold their own and be weaned off the room tax by next year with county subsidy to build 26 hangars.

Commissioners approved the hangars and transferred $400,000 from the $1.7 million Dangberg Ranch reserves to the airport fund.

The hangars are expected to generate $78,880 a year so the airport could service its own $62,000 bond debt, according to Jim Braswell, operational services director.

Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen called the rate of return on the investment, “phenomenal, by any measure.”

Plans would be to increase the hangars to 50 units on review of the first phase of units.

Other additions include moving $46,000 from library reserves for one step toward a grant match for an expansion of the Douglas County Library.

Carolyn Rawles-Heiser, library director, said a commitment by the commission was needed so she can secure a federal grant for $159,000 by January 1998.

Etchegoyhen still questioned the appropriation saying, “how are we going to operate and maintain anything bigger than what we have.”

The expansion is estimated to cost $607,000 and additionally $3,000 a month for utilities, Rawles-Heiser said.

With the rollover of last year’s budget and having to absorb inflationary cost, the library’s material and computer programs will be cut into.

However, Rawles-Heiser said she “was thrilled with what happened with the budget,” and wanted to “thank the parks and recreation staff and (the county manager staff) for saving the library budget, because we didn’t have any room to cut.”

Parks and recreation was the sacrificial lamb of the flat room-tax fund trimming about $251,000 the budget.

Cuts included staff reductions of one full-time park ranger supervisor and nine part-time and seasonal employees.

Scott Morgan, parks and recreation director, said the department has “a new way of doing business that we have embraced seriously.”

Those changes include greater community involvement and using more contract services.

Members of Douglas County youth sports organizations said in a memo that they would make up some of the recreation cuts by chalking the ballfields themselves.

“We wish to assist the county in balancing the budget,” the memo said. “We hope that by assisting the county with our volunteer efforts, the service which provides the basic maintenance and security of facilities will not be lost.”

Morgan said changes in the department would still allow it to maintain a high level of service with reduced demand on public funds.

“Many of the cuts are very healthy for our organization,” he said.

The commission also bought with the room tax money increased the promotion of tourism in the amount of $175,000 to the Lake Tahoe Visitors’ Authority.

Steve Teshara, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance, said it took courage to make the appropriation and the Alliance would scrutinize the money to try and drive more casino revenue to get more revenue for the county.

Miner said he was concerned about public testimony that the county was giving money to the casinos.

“That is a level of ignorance that needs to be corrected,” he said. “(The money) goes to promote the area.”

He said another consideration was that gaming revenue needed to be bolstered.

“You can fill all the rooms and not fill one casino,” he said adding that the casinos might have to lower room rates to compete in the market to attract more people.

Additional room tax funds will go to promote the Tahoe Douglas Chamber of Commerce with $19,430 more than last year and $3,000 more to the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The commissioners made some plans for the future by discussing preventive maintenance in roads and computers.

During Wednesday night’s meeting, road supervisor Brett Reed identified the preventive maintenance program which would cost around $300,000 a year after all deferred projects were caught up. He said if the roads were allowed to degrade at the current rate, the cost to replace roads would be astronomical.

Bob Nunes, director of Community Development, identified 100 miles of road in the county that need maintenance.

Etchegoyhen said he supports a preventive maintenance system to be put in place.

“This country was founded on a strong transportation system and we should not forget that when it comes to Douglas County,” he said.

Holler said one solution to increased road funding would be to design a road maintenance program and implement a nickel gas tax.

“The commission would need to sell that particular program to the voters – something they could believe in,” he said.

Commissioner Kelly Kite said, “I don’t know if we’ve earned that trust yet. Hopefully we will.”

No action was taken on the preventive maintenance program.

Commissioners prepared for the year 2000 when computers will need to be updated to recognize the new millennium.

They dedicated $200,000 out of this year’s budget to prepare for the event.

Another way the county is preparing for the future is the $1 million kept in reserve for the construction of the county complex.

Permanent reductions in staff and consolidation will be hashed out at a final budget workshop at 1 p.m. April 10 at the County Administrative Building, 1616 Eighth St. Minden. Recommendations will be added to the final budget for the state’s June deadline.