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August 3, 2015

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Commissioners rip into Health District boss, agree on funding figure

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Lawrence Sands, chief health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District, speaks during a Nurse-Family Partnership Graduation at the Health District Tuesday, August 9, 2011.

After learning the Southern Nevada Health District’s reserve funds had grown equal to about 25 percent of its overall budget, Clark County commissioners told the district it would get about half of the money it expected from the county.

About half is equal to $8.5 million of the $17.9 million figure the Health District had put into its tentative budget for fiscal year 2012-13. If that holds, the district’s budget reserve would drop to about 16.6 percent of its total budget. That percentage, county administrators said, is more in line with what is expected of the agency.

The Health District’s original tentative budget for fiscal year 2013 anticipated a $2 million cut.

Before the unanimous vote, commissioners had sharp words for Lawrence Sands, Health District director. After Sands stood before commissioners and said none of them had contacted him beforehand, Commissioner Steve Sisolak seethed.

“I’m feeling a sense of arrogance, that you just don’t want to cooperate,” Sisolak said. “Before you come back, you and I better talk because this is nothing compared to what it will be next time.”

Sisolak recounted different issues he thought Sands should have talked to county officials about beforehand, such as the abrupt closure of the Health District’s main building on Shadow Lane in April. Sisolak said Sands closed the building unilaterally and without being told to do so by any government building inspector.

“I think one of the problems, the biggest problem, is communication,” Sisolak added, “the fact that you think we should call you.”

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Steve Sisolak

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said things in the Health District “appear all over the place and crazy.”

“How do we get the Health District back on point?” he asked.

Commissioners were also disturbed that it appears that some of the county funding meant for operations had been diverted to a building fund. The Health District is in need of a rehab or replacement of its 47-year-old main building on Shadow Lane. The district estimates a new building would cost $63 million; purchasing a building would cost $37 million, and making repairs on the existing building would cost $6.7 million.

In its tentative budget, the Health District outlined how $10.5 million in bond reserve funds could be transferred to offset the cost of purchasing or constructing a new building.

Mary Beth Scow made it clear that none of the $9.3 million in county funds tentatively budgeted for next year could go for anything except operational costs.

“Having that building fund has created such a rift because the county money … is really operational,” the commissioner said. “The Health District can’t own property or build a building. That should be used for operations.”

The Health District sued Clark County last summer. One of its disputes is Scow’s contention that it cannot own real estate. It believes it can. The Health District also believes it is entitled to all property taxes collected from 3.5 cents per $100 in assessed property value.

With the county still reeling from the recession, which led to a massive decline in property tax revenues, the Health District’s budget for next year still includes an increase of about 2.5 percent in employee salaries and benefits. About 78 percent of its budget goes to salaries and benefits.

Commissioners have cast a wary eye toward the agency since about two years ago, when the Health District board approved wage increases for most employees of about 5.5 percent.

The increase was contract-guaranteed, but commissioners were surprised that none of the board members had asked the union for concessions like other public employee unions.

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