County looks to shave $3 million deficit |

County looks to shave $3 million deficit

by Sheila Gardner

The $3 million deficit that has dogged county coffers for the past few years is back for the 2012-13 fiscal year, not a surprise Monday for county officials tasked with balancing the budget.

County manager Steve Mokrohisky opened a two-day budget workshop with an overview of the general fund and steps being taken to balance the budget as required by law.

Some revenues are projected to increase, but are still insufficient to meet increasing expenses, he said.

The board faces options similar to steps taken last year to balance the budget.

They include capturing part of the property tax rate from the East Fork Swimming Pool District and the Western Nevada Regional Youth Camp, and an increase in collection of cost allocation for a total of nearly $1 million.

The board may also consider reducing the contingency to 1.5 percent for an additional $552,254 and decreasing the room tax transfer by $200,000.

All those options, which Mokrohisky said are within the board’s control, would cut the deficit by $1.6 million, leaving a balance of $1.26 million.

That also leaves in the unknown column the outcome of negotiations with county employees.

Last year, employees agreed to a wage cut of 5 percent. Those funds have been returned to the budget pending completion of negotiations.

Mokrohisky pointed out that personnel expenses are 72 percent and the largest component of the general fund.

He said that the county staffing levels are at the 2002 level with 65 full-time positions eliminated in the past five years, and 13 positions currently vacant.

Despite the reduction in employees, salaries and wages which were $19 million in 2002, are $27 million in fiscal year 2012.

To reduce personnel expenses, Mokrohisky said county employees will receive no merit increases this year.

In January 2008, the county shifted health insurance costs increases to employees.

The county reduced supply costs, engaged in regional partnerships and outsourced services.

Sheriff Ron Pierini addressed the board about the importance of hiring qualified employees.

Salary and benefits went up for the sheriff’s office in the mid-90s “because recruitment was zero.”

“If we can’t keep up, I am really concerned. We want good, quality people. County employees came forward and cut their wages by 5 percent – including myself,” he said.

“We need to focus on whatever we need to do to make our mission successful,” Pierini said.

He said the sheriff’s department is looking at 9-15 layoffs depending on the outcome of contract negotiations.

“If that does happen, it will have a huge impact on the quality of life in Douglas County,” he said. “We’ll probably never experience what we once had. Let’s just pray we can make it all work.”

Pierini said the department spends at least $40,000 on training new hires over their first 2-3 years as deputies.

“When we lay them off, we’ve lost that,” he said.

He said last year, the department answered 42,000 calls.

“The men and women in this department work call-to-call,” Pierini said. “When we don’t have officers, this community will turn sideways.”

The budget hearings concluded Tuesday. Mokrohisky said a third workshop may be scheduled pending the outcome of negotiations.

The county’s tentative budget is due to the state April 15 in advance of a final budget June 1.