By Mark Waite
TONOPAH — Nye County District Attorney Brian Kunzi threatened to file charges if the sheriff’s department continues to bust its budget in the upcoming fiscal year, in violation of state law, during a budget workshop Tuesday.
The exchange came while Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall was inquiring whether sheriff’s dispatchers and detention officers were exempt from requirements to take one furlough day per month. Human Resources Director Donelle Shamrell said the deputies in the field are considered essential positions and are exempt from the furlough. But Kunzi said dispatchers and detention officers were not exempt.
In a report on the 2010-11 fiscal year presented last March, auditor Dan McArthur reported expenses for public safety overran the budget by $771,700.
Kunzi referred to emails exchanged with Nye County Sheriff’s Captain Bill Becht.
“All I said in the email last week is we have a law that says if you exceed your budget, you are violating the law. It appears that the sheriff’s budget was getting very close. Things had to be taken care of. I told him pointedly if the Board of Commissioners chose to refer this to my office for prosecution for not meeting the demands of the budget that I would initiate that action,” Kunzi said. “The money that was in there would not be enough to pay the dispatchers without furloughing.”
Marshall said it would cost more to replace dispatchers and detention officers on furlough than to give them furlough days off.
“They can just sell back 96 hours of comp time to compensate for the loss of furloughs,” Marshall said.
Commissioner Joni Eastley, who admitted she was texting Marshall earlier in the meeting, said that wouldn’t accomplish the objectives of the furlough program to save money.
Comptroller Susan Paprocki suggested instituting a 38-hour work week instead of the furlough program, she said the furlough program created scheduling problems in certain departments. That’s contingent on approval of the employees union, before the final budget hearing on Monday, May 21. Paprocki said a 38-hour work week would still save 5 percent and may allow for employee STEP increases.
The projected deficit was whittled down from $2.6 million to $1.6 million before the Tuesday budget workshop.
Revenues are projected to be 97 percent of the estimated budget for this 2011-12 fiscal year, $31.9 million compared to $32.8 million, but only 87 percent of the actual numbers for fiscal year 2010-11, which were $36.7 million.
When combined with the fund balance the county will have $32.5 million in the general fund. But expenditures are estimated at $33.9 million, an increase from $32.8 million projected for this year, which would leave a $1.6 million negative fund balance by the end of the upcoming fiscal year on June 30, 2013.
That led Paprocki to issue her own warning on behalf of the Nevada Department of Taxation.
“They prefer us to have a fund balance of four percent of expenditures however we cannot have a negative fund balance. I don’t know if we can have a four percent fund balance but we do need to get rid of the negative,” she said.
Commissioner Dan Schinhofen asked if a drop in the cost of salaries from $19.6 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year to $16.6 million this year was due to the employee early retirement buyouts, Paprocki said it was. But salaries will rise to $17.13 million next year, Eastley noted $1.08 million of that is overtime.
“The value of the overtime is estimated at $1.08 million, what is the value of the buyout?” she asked.
Paprocki said the net effect of the buyout was a savings of $750,000 to $800,000, assuming there’s no overtime, an assumption Eastley called ridiculous.
There are no plans for another early retirement buyout this year, like the last two years, the first year the county borrowed from a landfill closure fund to pay for it, last year the county took the money from the Payment Equal to Taxes for Yucca Mountain.
Other steps Paprocki suggested to balance the budget include removing unfilled positions, a savings of $371,000, redirecting planning staff salaries to a building department fund when possible, saving $165,000 and splitting the emergency services director’s salary between the EMS and ambulance department, another $70,000 in savings.
The cost of services and supplies jumps from $7.8 million to $8 million, Paprocki said that includes increased utility costs for the footprint of new buildings, like the new Pahrump jail, among $250,000 in added costs in the buildings and grounds budget for utilities. Software maintenance agreements will cause the information technology budget to increase by $100,000. Paprocki wants to cut the services and supplies budget by 10 percent.
Kunzi said he’s working hard on a plan to trim costs paid to conflict attorneys, which are projected to double next year to $700,000. That’s in addition to the $550,000 spent annually on the law firm of Gibson and Kuehn, for three public defenders.
Kunzi said the county could sign contracts with conflict attorneys instead of paying them hourly. Those are attorneys hired because one of the public defenders has a conflict of interest, or in cases where there are multiple defendants who each need their own attorney.
County officials will budget a potential savings of $200,000, Kunzi thinks he can achieve at least that much.
Three services that don’t have to be provided by the county — senior nutrition program, animal services and veterans’ services — were put on the table, collectively the county would save $736,000. But Schinhofen and Commissioner Gary Hollis pledged not to cut senior nutrition or veterans’ services.
Kunzi said the county has to scrap plans for a ballot question this November asking voters to approve a $20 parcel fee for animal control.
“Unfortunately I was researching another issue when I came across a very bizarre, strange statute. I have no reason why it’s in there, it says animal control cannot have any other revenue source,” Kunzi said.
Schinhofen suggested privatizing animal control to an organization like the Lied Animal Shelter in Las Vegas or turning it over to the communities.
But Eastley replied: “I’ll never balance our budget on the backs of the towns. I’ve been on a town board for 10 years.”
She said every community needs animal control including in the rural areas, where they’re called coyotes.
Eastley said liquor license fees were never raised in her 12 years on the county commission, which Paprocki said are only budgeted at $37,000 next year. Wichman suggested increasing fees on health inspections for brothel workers.
Schinhofen suggested approaching the employee union with the 38-hour work week and, continuing a freeze on STEP increases that would reduce the remaining $1.4 million deficit after Kunzi’s trimming of the budget for conflict attorneys.
Commissioner Lorinda Wichman said if the county did all that and cut overtime costs in half, another of Paprocki’s suggestions, there would be a $400,000 to $500,000 surplus.
Commissioners extended an olive branch to employees at the end of the discussion.
“I’m very happy and grateful that they gave concessions in the past and I know we are asking for them again. It would be much easier if we didn’t have a collective bargaining unit,” Schinhofen said.
Eastley added to those remarks.
“We cannot say enough for the willingness of the employees to work with us. It’s very difficult. I personally know employees who are taking their furlough day and foregoing their STEP increase. While it doesn’t sound like a lot of sacrifice I know people who are working part-time jobs in addition to working full-time for Nye County,” she said.