Douglas county adopts tentative $120 million budget; looks to fix $3.25 million deficit
Tribune news service
MINDEN, Nev. – Douglas County commissioners unanimously approved a $120 million tentative budget Wednesday, hoping to dissolve a $3.25 million deficit through a 5-percent wage reduction and restructuring the property tax rate.
Commissioners listened to two nights of budget hearings before approving the tentative budget which depends on an across-the-board approach as opposed to priority budgeting.
County Manager T. Michael Brown said the fiscal year 2011-12 budget was a 3.2-percent decrease over this year’s budget.
He said the ongoing decline in revenues and increase in demand for services continued to present challenges.
“There are critical decisions the board has to think about tonight,” he said Tuesday. “This is the fifth year in a row deficits are exceeding $1.5 million.”
As mandated by state law, the county must submit a balanced budget to the state by June 1. The county has set a May 16 deadline to adopt the final budget.
Commissioners discussed unknowns including whether the county’s represented employees will accept the 5 percent pay cut in negotiations, and what the final outcome is from the Nevada Legislature which has a deficit of nearly $2 billion.
The 5 percent reduction provided by departments would save $1.7 million, the equivalent of 18 full-time positions.
That leaves a $1.54 million deficit to be absorbed by reducing the county’s contingency fund from 3 percent to 1.5 percent, a $600,000 savings. Restructuring the property tax would cut the deficit by another $700,000.
A further savings of $650,000 in new revenue and nonpersonnel costs and leaving positions vacant would wipe out the deficit.
“With a 5-percent salary reduction, we would need the associations to participate. It can’t just be a burden on nonrepresented employees,” said commission Chairman Mike Olson.
“That includes us here,” he said, referring to the commissioners.
If the 5-percent wage cut is rejected, 14 full-time employees would be laid off.
Brown said the employees had been informed who might be impacted. They include a full-time employee in the assessor’s office cut to parttime, one full-time investigator in the district attorney’s office, a full-time employee in the recorder’s office cut to halftime, two fulltime animal control officers and a code enforcement officer.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office would bear the brunt of the layoffs: Four patrol deputies, three investigators, a sergeant and a youth services officer.
Olson said he was confident the employee associations would work with the county.
“I would like to see the organization as a whole work together to accept a 5 percent reduction. I don’t believe 10 percent is doable. Our best opportunity is to work with the associations. We have good people in our associations, I believe they will work with us,” he said.
Arguing for across-the-board, Olson said, “Everybody feels the pain. Everybody hurts.”
Commissioner Lee Bonner recommended the county use priority-based budgeting.
“If we do across-the-board, it will hamper the county for years to come,” Bonner said.
He asked for a priority list of 100 county programs.
Brown told commissioners such a list would be a board policy decision.
“It’s not our (staff) job to come up with a priority list. It’s yours. You have significant authority to establish your list of priorities. My job is to provide you with policy options. Determining whether services provided by the district attorney are more important than the clerk’s office, that’s your call,” Brown said.
Commissioner Greg Lynn said priority-based budgeting put the board in “the position of choosing winners and losers.”
Commissioner Nancy McDermid said she was concerned about the outcome of the Nevada Legislature which won’t be known before the budget is due.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in Carson City,” she said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. What we do know is the current deficit. We don’t know the final deficit. If we should do all these things and there are more, what are our options? It isn’t fun to sit up here and realize what it means in terms of people we know and like.”
Commissioners were willing to look at the tax rate restructuring, but said there has to be more discussion among the entities involved.
State law allows the county rate to go up about seven cents, but it can’t because the towns of Minden and Gardnerville and Indian Hills General Improvement District have allowed rates that push the combined tax rate to the state maximum of $3.64.
In order for the county general tax rate to increase, three other entities must decrease their rates.
Another option would be for one or more taxing districts with the same tax boundaries to decrease their tax rates, for example East Fork Fire and Paramedic Districts, East Fork Swimming Pool District or the Mosquito Abatement District.
East Fork Fire Chief Tod Carlini, saying he was about to “step off the plank,” told the board he would be willing to discuss restructuring, but felt all entities needed to sit down together.
“I’d like to challenge Minden and Gardnerville to sit down and talk to us. It’s time to find out the numbers, how everyone will be impacted. What will the budget look like at the end of the day when that component is removed or adjusted? I don’t see a lot of other options,” Carlini said Wednesday.
Brown said to raise the $700,000 “you don’t have to touch East Fork at all.”
“My recommendation is not to touch the East Fork rate. If you reduce it, it’s hard to get the money back,” Brown said.