Paul McGrath: Carson City’s dollars dilemma
May 22, 2012
Bob Thomas’ commentary of April 26 was so appropriate with the front page article of the city’s dollar problems, that a response was needed from someone who has worked with the city during past hard times when city department budgets are challenged. The article by Mr. Thomas should be read by every member of the board and all department heads, because it really hits home.
In the Nevada Appeal article on April 26, the reporter disclosed reductions in city personnel only since 2007. Did the reporter ask questions about program reviews from all departments for effectiveness, program eliminations and reductions, staffing, scheduling and other non-employee costs? The article addressed only the 20-plus-year lobbyist and the former city manager with respect to reducing ongoing costs. These two programs need to be reviewed for their effectiveness versus costs to the taxpayer instead of just the comment of being vital for the city. Both of these consultants are the former mayors’ pet programs.
Because of these hard times, additional review of all programs must be done by someone other than the city manager. Just because a department head may be elected, the Board of Supervisors controls the dollars and they should be treated the same as other department heads. Something that comes to mind is a substantial pay increase for appointed officials that were put into the department’s budget with the city manager’s assistance that became public after the budget process was completed. These salary increases were far beyond the normal raises normally offered to city personnel.
Carson City has a number of aces in the hole. For more than 20 years, the consumer has been paying at the pump a 5-cent-a-gallon tax to start the freeway. Well, the freeway is started and funding has not been secured for the final phase, but the nickel is still being put in the pot.
A suggestion to help public works to maintain our inner roads and streets would be to have the Board of Supervisors work with the Nevada Department of Transportation to suspend that nickel from going into the state’s pot of dollars and to collect that pot of money to fix the local streets and roads. Once the freeway funding for the last phase has been secured, then redirect that nickel back to the state. Although my personal opinion is that the nickel be kept locally.
Living in the southern part of the city, the roads such as Silver Sage, Center and others are like driving in a bombed-out air strip with gaps across the entire road as wide as 10 inches. This pot is a large pot with a lot of dollars that is just sitting there for use on the freeway when the original road use tax is already being paid by the motoring public that was designed and collected for road construction and repairs.
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Public safety in Carson City has always been well-funded. A recent article about the possibility of losing some programs due to funding cuts really came to the surface to show the need for additional program reviews by the board. A few years ago, proposals were submitted to have a tax override for public safety programs from the Fire and Sheriff’s departments. That proposal was soundly defeated by the citizens of Carson City.
In that proposal were things like a new firetruck (for tall buildings was the justification), seven or eight new employees to combat gang problems, and other material things to enhance their operations. This is an example where the Board of Supervisors should have questioned this override and not have the citizens soundly defeat the issue.
By the way, the tall-building firetruck request was already purchased because of the Ormsby House construction 20-plus years ago. The gang and drug problems could have been greatly reduced with a Homeland Security program offered at no charge, except training costs.
Carson City was consolidated in 1969. A number of jurisdictions have taken the necessary steps to consolidate their police and fire into one. This would be a natural for our city, and the Board of Supervisors should explore the possibility of consolidation that would save millions of dollars in associated employee costs of overtime and staffing.
Current employees would naturally be opposed, but the citizens would benefit greatly. Carson City does not need another tax increase; Carson City needs agency heads to think outside of the box and develop meaningful programs using existing resources.
• Paul McGrath is a former Carson City Sheriff.