Washoe County may cut services to deal with budget shortfall | NevadaAppeal.com

Washoe County may cut services to deal with budget shortfall

Associated Press

RENO — Washoe County officials say they may have to consider laying off employees and cutting services to deal with a projected $18 million budget shortfall.

To ready for any shortfall, County Manager Katy Singlaub has ordered department heads to prepare status quo budgets as well as budgets that include 4 percent and 7 percent cuts. The latter could mean eliminating positions, she said.

“It’s a hugely painful exercise,” Singlaub told a Reno newspaper. “We don’t have a lot of rabbits to pull out of the hat.”

But some county employees say management is partly to blame for the financial dilemma.

They question the wisdom of the county’s $13 million purchase of the Pioneer Casino property in Reno two years ago. They also question the $9 million cost of a new computerized financial management system.

“These examples tend to cast doubt among our members as to the severity of the problem as stated by management,” said Penny Rasmussen, president of the Washoe County Employees Association.

Singlaub said with wage hikes and other cost increases, the county’s operating budget would total $276 million next fiscal year. But under current revenue projections, spending would have to be pared by $18 million for a balanced budget.

“This is as tough a situation as we’ve been in for many years,” Singlaub told employees in an e-mail newsletter. “Since we’ve been cutting the budget for several years now, there’s not much left now to cut.”

She said it’s much too early to single out which services would be cut, but she predicted some segments of the community would suffer.

Results of a survey of residents now under way will help determine which services can be trimmed or eliminated.

Under existing contracts, 2,200 county employees are slated to get 3.5 percent raises in January or July, county officials said. The raises will cost the county about $5 million.

Since last spring, the county has put a hold of up to six months in filling job vacancies. The move has saved about $5.5 million so far.

Washoe County has hired lobbyist Harvey Whittemore to protect its interests at the 2003 Legislature.

County officials have expressed concern the state might cut funding to counties. The state itself is facing a projected $335 million budget shortfall.

“The Legislature is clearly an unknown,” Singlaub said.