Children's programs will avoid Nevada budget cuts

A standoff between Gov. Jim Gibbons and local government officials in southern Nevada has apparently ended with a commitment from Gibbons to exempt child welfare and juvenile justice programs from $285 million in proposed state budget cuts.

"I thought it was understood they would be spared from cuts," Gibbons said Tuesday, adding that K-12 education, public safety, corrections and children's programs will not be cut.

"We will have to make steeper cuts in other state agencies," the governor said.

Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid, who unsuccessfully pressed Gibbons last week for a promise to preserve $3.6 million in county child welfare and juvenile justice budgets up for cuts, said he was happy with the governor's statement.

Without the money to hire additional staff, reduce caseloads for Clark County Family Services workers and offer better training, meeting federal improvement goals for Nevada child welfare would be next to impossible, Clark County officials have said.

The cuts would have meant that 59 of the 85 new child welfare positions approved by the Legislature this year would not be funded.

The standoff between the state and Clark County began last month after state Health and Human Services Director Michael Willden asked county officials to list where children's services could be cut. The agency channels state money to Clark County for children's programs.

Reid and other Clark County officials refused to prepare the list, maintaining that children's programs were too important to cut.

The budget uncertainty also prompted Clark County commissioners to delay renewing a contract with the state for the provision of child welfare services.

The contract made no funding guarantees but sought to make Clark County responsible for federal penalties that might result if Clark County Family Services fails to meet improvement goals.

The pressure to reduce state budgets by 5 percent results from a shortfall in projected state revenues.

On Tuesday, Gibbons also expressed hope that the economic downturn might not be as severe as expected. Casino revenue figures for September, released Friday, showed a 7.45 percent improvement from the same month in 2006. The increase was higher than projections.


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