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County braces for more cuts
by Joshua H. Silavent
Feb 22, 2011 | 4442 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/John Byrne - Commissioner Bob Larkin listens to a presentation on Tuesday about how Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed state budget would affect Washoe County.
Tribune/John Byrne - Commissioner Bob Larkin listens to a presentation on Tuesday about how Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed state budget would affect Washoe County.
RENO — Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed state budget would have a $24.9 million effect on Washoe County over each of the next two years, according to a new report issued to county commissioners on Tuesday.

The latest figure is about $400,000 less per year than initial projections. The change comes as a result of an expected decrease in state funding cuts for the China Springs and Aurora Pines youth camps.

County officials had previously said the Aurora Pines program for girls faced elimination, but no word was given on how the adjusted figures might affect its future.

Despite the decrease, however, Washoe government must still manage the fallout the executive state budget would have, if adopted, on an existing $33.5 million county deficit.

Moreover, officials did not rule out the possibility that the financial impact on the county could increase with time as an evaluation of the governor’s budget continues.

The fiscal hit comes as the state looks to swipe additional tax revenues and shift services to county government. Several health care, court and social service programs are on the chopping block while others are proposed for major funding reductions.

In some cases, the state has indicated that it will continue to provide certain services, such as elderly and senior protective care, while billing the county for the expense.

“That, to me, is an awful policy,” Commissioner David Humke said Tuesday during discussion of the matter in the county legislative chambers.

Meanwhile, John Slaughter, management services director for Washoe County, told commissioners he was tracking bills in the state Legislature that proposed changing the formula that determines allocations of consolidated tax revenue.

County officials oppose such changes because they believe more money will be taken from its coffers if enacted — an unaffordable prospect.

Across Nevada, counties are being forced to confront similar fates. Sandoval’s budget would have a combined $300 million impact on all county governments, according to officials from the Nevada Association of Counties (NAC).

Due to their size, Washoe and Clark counties are being singled out and likely will take the brunt of cuts.

But, said NAC President Doug Johnson, “no county can afford to lose revenue to the state.”

NAC officials assured commissioners that they would continue to advocate for more flexibility and control of day-to-day operations for county governments.

The need for greater local government oversight stems from a clear trend, they said.

“Our message is consistent … county revenues are decreasing and demand for services is increasing,” said NAC Executive Director Jeff Fontaine.

As such, counties are better suited to determine exactly where funding for services is best directed, proponents argue.

State Sen. Greg Brower said he supported giving county and municipal governments, and even school districts, more power to manage their own affairs, but not if that meant having the state push down services in the form of unfunded mandates.

“That, obviously, presents problems for the county,” he said, as does the state’s urge to usurp county tax revenues to support its own budget shortfalls.

“I’ve been wary since day one of the state taking too much money from Washoe,” Brower said.

He and other state delegates representing Washoe County are expected to meet with a few commissioners and support staff on Feb. 25 in Carson City to address how the county would suffer from the governor’s budget proposal.

“They need to know how these cuts will impact Washoe,” said Commissioner Bonnie Weber.

The importance of giving counties more flexibility in its affairs is reflected in the fact that local governments play a “vital role in sustaining communities,” Fontaine said.

Kambiz Raffiee, associate dean of the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno, echoed this point with a presentation given during the county commission meeting Tuesday.

Washoe government is the third largest employer in the county, Raffiee said, and supports some 4,800 jobs through indirect operations in addition to its nearly 2,600 employees.

Washoe County operations are also responsible for some $465 million in annual economic impact to the region, Raffiee said.

These facts show “there are signs for optimism,” Raffiee said.

Given the economic conditions that exist right now, however, county officials are reluctant to agree.
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