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July 23, 2014

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Henderson council passes $479 million budget, avoiding cuts

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Jacob Snow, whose contract was approved to become the new Henderson city manager during the Henderson City Council meeting, greets people before the meeting at City Hall in downtown Henderson on Tuesday, March 20, 2012.

The Henderson City Council approved a $479 million budget Tuesday evening for fiscal year 2014, which starts July 1, that is roughly the same size as the previous year and won’t require any cuts to staff or services.

The issue: The city council needed to approve a final budget for submission to the state Department of Taxation by the June 1 deadline.

The vote: Approved unanimously.

What it means: The city has managed to keep its budget flat and avoid any further cuts to staff and services, but trouble still lies ahead as property tax revenues remain at 2005 levels following a steep drop in the aftermath of the recession.

The budget includes $261 million in general fund spending, which covers the general operations for the city. There’s a $7.2 million structural budget deficit, which the city hopes will be closed by holding vacant positions open and through its voluntary employee buy-out program. In a worst case scenario, reserves would be used to cover the gap.

“We’re making progress. We’re not quite back in the black, but we’re close,” finance director Richard Derrick told the council.

The city has kept cost down through concessions received from unions and a pay freeze for employees, but it’s still looking to save money through restructuring benefit packages.

City Manager Jacob Snow said that although the city’s budget outlook is improving, there are still significant challenges facing the city, including a lack of available funding for needed capital projects.

He said the cuts the city has made in the past years are not sustainable and are beginning to become noticeable.

“We have some fundamental structural problems that we need to address and we have not been addressing them for several years,” Snow said. “We are not able to make investments in our streets and our roadways, some of which are beginning to unravel … We’re starting to see some of the deterioration in our parks. We’re starting to see some of the deterioration in our neighborhoods and we do not have the financial resources to address that.”

Snow recommended the city form a committee of staff and community members to examine the city’s budget over the next year and bring back recommendations on ways to contain costs, reduce spending and increase revenues.

The council seemed to take Snow’s warning to heart and approved the formation of a budget committee.

“I think this is an important discussion to have and to continue to have … clearly we offer a great quality of life at very low tax rates. We continue to have the best parks in Southern Nevada and offer wonderful services to all of our citizens,” Councilwoman Debra March said. “We can’t continue to do that and you’re going to see the impact if we don’t do something about it.”

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