But if Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed state budget were to take effect, the county deficit would rise by about $25 million during each of the next two fiscal years. The increase would result from a continued diversion of some property tax revenues and the state’s intention to push down the costs of public services to the county level.
All county departments now have been directed to formulate two budget contingency plans in response to both deficit scenarios. The first would be based on services funded at a 10 percent reduction of current levels, and the second based on a 25 percent reduction.
These plans correspond with an estimated $5 million to $40 million in service reductions or eliminations to be phased in during the next two budget cycles.
Meanwhile, about $5 million in efficiency savings and the use of $9.75 million in one-time fund balances would make up the remaining budget shortfall.
But all these figures only represent projections, and there seems to be a great deal of fluctuation possible between now and this summer, when a budget must be approved.
The prospect of the state budget swelling the county’s own deficit only complicates matters further.
“There are real huge fears” that the state budget could drive county labor concessions higher, said Penny Rasmussen, president of the Washoe County Employees Association (WCEA). At 1,274 members, the WCEA is the largest public employee union in the county.
County officials also have indicated that the amount of concessions needed to balance the budget could grow with time and that layoffs might be an unavoidable outcome of the two budget scenarios.
“I’m worried about the future of the county and our public servants,” Commissioner Kitty Jung said.
Collective bargaining negotiations are expected to begin in April and it is possible they will not conclude until after a budget is adopted for the next fiscal year. Were this to happen, a marker will be placed in each county department’s budget equal to its proportional share of concessions needed to cover the deficit, according to staff reports.
Rasmussen said the WCEA would survey its members about their willingness to give concessions by way of salary cuts, furlough days or paying more into health care coverage. The results would then drive their negotiating platform.
Jung said it was important for employee unions to have flexibility in determining where concessions are best directed.
She described public servants as the last bastion of the middle-class and said she would continue to make known that what the state Legislature is proposing would have “deplorable” ramifications for both county workers and the services they provide.
“It’s not the public employee unions that brought the county to its knees,” Jung said.
To this point, WCEA members have accepted a wage concession of 3.34 percent for the current fiscal year plus an increase in medical deductions and no cost-of-living adjustments have been made for more than five years, Rasmussen said.
The previous concessions make it more difficult to determine what employees will be willing to negotiate this time around.
“I don’t know where our members stand right now,” Rasmussen said. “This is the one year I would not make a prediction.”