Clark County Budget Director Bob Stevens on Tuesday told commissioners the two-year budget before them provided “flexibility to react to changing circumstances.”
The commissioners agreed, approving the budget unanimously. In doing so, they also agreed not to raise property taxes by the state-allowed 1 percent.
Described as “austere,” the budget dedicates $896 million to all county funds. Of that, $296 million will go to the general fund, for which the commissioners have spending discretion. The proposed budget also includes reserves sufficient to operate for 52 days.
The two-year budget represents an immediate reduction to county expenditures of roughly 6.5 percent over the current biennial budget, approved in 2012.
The reason for the sizable reduction is because of a $10 million wrongful imprisonment settlement the county entered into with Alan Northrop and Larry Davis in 2014. Without that, the reduction would be closer to 3.5 percent, Stevens said.
“We are only going to spend in decision packages the money we bring in,” Stevens told commissioners Tuesday.
That was a major goal for commissioners Tom Mielke and David Madore, both Republicans, who have for the past two years emphasized cutting fees for residents and business owners. Republican Commissioner Jeanne Stewart, at her first hearing as a commissioner, voted for the budget, saying it controlled costs.
Since the 2008 recession, the county has worked to shed costs. At its highest point, Stevens said, the county’s overall budget was around $1 billion.
The lion’s share of the biennial budget — slightly more than a half of what’s budgeted — will go to criminal justice and the public works department.
Law enforcement and criminal justice are points of emphasis in the two-year budget, covering 2015 and 2016. It calls for adding 10 custody deputies to the sheriff’s office and a legal clerk to the prosecuting attorney’s office.
The staffing increases come on top of those approved for the sheriff’s office in 2014.
The commissioners approved adding eight enforcement deputies, along with two employees to manage public records and two discharge planners, whose duties include helping former inmates find employment and housing upon their release. Additional support for criminal justice included two deputy prosecuting attorneys and a commissioner for the Clark County Superior Court.
By law, the county has to approve a balanced budget. About 25 percent the property taxes paid go toward county services.
Overall, commissioners expressed optimism at what Stevens called a “pay-as-you-go budget.”
“We’re not borrowing from the future,” Madore said. “We’re solid.”
He said the budget was in keeping with his promise not to raise taxes.
“We are the best county in the state,” he said. “I’m convinced of that.”
Mielke echoed Madore’s sentiments, saying now was not the time to raise taxes despite the budget office’s desire to do so.
“I don’t want to stop doing well,” he said. “I want people to keep their revenue, their paychecks, so they can go out and buy things.”
The local economy has seen moderate growth in the past two years, with employment growth being particularly strong in 2014. Scott Bailey, regional economist for the state’s Employment Security Department, said wages are expected to pick up in 2015.
The county expects modest growth to continue in 2015, the result of a boost in taxable retail sales and new construction.