FROM THE EDITOR: Nye County cuts go deep into services

Nye County Commissioners took out their carving knife this week to address the serious financial straits of the county.

The full impact of these cuts on the citizens in the nation’s third largest county may take anywhere from weeks to months to be felt.

The cutting of county subsidies for senior nutrition ($120,000) and animal shelters ($225,000) is a move to shift responsibility from the county to the towns for supporting these services.

If a town wants to feed its seniors or shelter its animals, it better find a way to do it themselves. It is important to remember that just because Pahrump doesn’t have a town board, it still has a town. With a budget.

The county also wants to stop funding $800,000 of the Tonopah jail’s $1.2 million in operational costs, turning the facility into a holding center until prisoners can be transferred to Pahrump. I talked to a few people around Tonopah, and received the “I’ll-believe-it-when-it-happens” response. I was told this idea has been talked about for years but has yet to happen.

And they may be right. Sheriff Sharon Wehrly did not seem keen on the idea of closing the facility, instead pitching the idea of selling the space to outside agencies that would generate the department some revenue. And I’m not sure the county can tell an elected official how to spend her budget, but they can set that budget.

Further north, the county pulled its $312,000 subsidies for the health clinics in Beatty and Amargosa Valley, further isolating the health care needs of those communities.

I have to believe county officials would not take a knife to programs such as senior nutrition and rural health clinics if all other options had not been exhausted.

The county is looking at a $2.5 million shortfall driven by lower-than-expected revenues from property taxes and consolidated taxes, numbers that are projected by the state’s Department of Taxation.

County Manager Pam Webster told the County Commissioners on Tuesday that she expects the current revenue levels to remain for the foreseeable future, which could increase the shortfall to $3.2 million in the coming years.

I admit I am new to the county, having edited the Pahrump Valley Times only since October, so I don’t have much of a historical context for how the leaders handled its finances in the past. All I know is now, the county manager and County Commissioners are being backed into a corner.

Since 2010, property tax revenue available to fund the county’s operations has dropped from $15.97 million in 2010, to a projected $11.4 million this year. The consolidated tax revenue has also dropped by nearly $1.5 million since 2009. However, as the fiscal year has progressed, as explained earlier, the revenues have continued to drop since the financial year started July 1.

One of the easy swings to take at the county, or any government entity, is at salaries and employment levels. Even here, I feel the county has taken steps within its power to reduce staffing levels. The county reported 460 full-time equivalent employees in 2010, and the number is down to 386 projected for this year. Overall employee salaries paid through the general fund dropped from $20.5 million in 2010 to a projected $15.5 million this year. However, salaries and benefits were projected to account for 78.4 percent of the county’s general fund expenses, but that is an issue that the county has little control over due to the state’s collective bargaining laws.

But, part of Tuesday’s recommendations included asking employees and management to take furloughs, which could save the county another $1.02 million.

Tuesday is not going to be the end of the county’s financial issues. Expect more hard discussions and decisions to be made in the coming months as the new budget is discussed.

Arnold M. Knightly is the editor of the Pahrump Valley Times.

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