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September 4, 2015

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Still-lagging tax revenues leave county $41 million budget hole

Don Burnette

Don Burnette

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

Clark County is facing a $41 million budget deficit next year but will fill the gap with money from its reserves, avoiding the need for layoffs or program cuts, officials said Wednesday.

But there won’t be any money left to hire new staff, expand services or invest in capital projects, county manager Don Burnette said.

The $1.2 billion budget for fiscal 2014, which starts July 1, will be roughly the same as this year.

The structural deficit increased by $14.5 million due to lower property tax revenues and a required increase in employee retirement contributions, but it still is smaller than the $68.9 million shortfall the county faced in 2011.

The county’s expenditures will go up only slightly next year, Burnette said, and its revenues are projected to increase by $8 million.

However, the entirety of that revenue gain will be directed to the county’s portion of Metro Police’s budget, which will be $489 million next year.

Depressed property tax revenues, which are below 2006 levels, and the slow increase of consolidated tax revenues have hampered attempts to balance the budget for Clark County and other local governments over the last several years.

Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said using reserve funding to balance the county’s budget isn’t a long-term solution — only $116 million will remain in reserves after this year — but it is the best option now.

Sisolak said there are signs of economic recovery around the valley, but it will take time before revenues coming into the county are back to pre-recession levels.

As more businesses start hiring again, Sisolak said, people will be able to spend more money on taxable goods or buy houses, both of which would boost the county’s tax revenues.

“We’ve got to hold the status quo as long as we can until some of these improvements start kicking in,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of projects that could potentially create a lot of jobs. You’ve got the big (solar) project in Laughlin, you’ve got the Genting project (on the Strip) and you’ve got the MGM Arena,” he said. “We’ve got to hold on until they get going and cause an impact.”

During Wednesday’s two-hour budget workshop, commissioners took turns asking county staff questions about various expenditures listed in the budget, including steep operating losses at the Clark County Detention Center and the continued unprofitability of the county shooting complex.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on a final 2014 budget at their May 20 meeting.

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