Las Vegas Sun

January 20, 2018

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Committee looks to counties to help fill $3 billion gap in state budget

CARSON CITY — A legislative committee, while looking for efficiencies in state government, is also taking aim at Nevada counties to help solve the state’s budget dilemma of $3 billion.

There are suggestions that counties either take over some of the state’s programs or charge them a fee for providing these services. These shifts or assessments could total $50 million in the next biennium.

For instance, the Legislative Committee on Review of Base Budgets of State Agencies has voted to further examine shifting an $11 million cost to District Courts to conduct pre-sentence investigations for those convicted of crimes.

The investigations are now done by the state Parole and Probation Division, which has 73 officers on the job.

The Legislature, if it goes along with the suggestion, will face a spirited battle with local government.

“You just can’t throw things over the fence and expect the counties to pick them up,” said Jeff Fontaine, director of the Nevada Association of Counties.

These are significant costs, Fontaine said. “Some counties can barely afford to keep their public safety department and other essential services,” he said.

The recommendations will be presented Dec. 17 to the Legislative Interim Finance Committee. Review committee members emphasized this was just a starting point.

Among the suggestions are transferring elder protection services investigations from the state to the counties or assess them for the cost; shift the licensing of emergency medical persons to the counties, except for Clark, which issues its own licenses; and allowing the Consumer Health Protection Agency to charge higher fees for protecting public health outside of Clark County, Washoe County and Carson City.

The committee is suggesting the 2011 Legislature look at merging the Office of Homeland Security with the Division of Emergency Planning and moving the state Personnel Division and the Department of Information Technology into the Department of Administration.

A proposal was moved forward by the committee to cut back the Senior Property Tax Assistance program for a savings of $6 million during the coming two fiscal years. An estimated 77 percent of the recipients are above the federal poverty level and their average grant was $349. Those below the federal poverty level received an average grant of $289.

The recommendation is to give grants to only those below the federal poverty level, and some of the recipients in this group qualify for federal grants.

The committee rejected suggestions to merge the state Commissions on Tourism and Economic Development; move the Department of Agriculture into the Department of Business and switch the Department of Wildlife into the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Also turned down was a proposal to eliminate the Agency for Nuclear Projects. Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, said scrapping the agency would send the wrong message as the state is still fighting to stop Yucca Mountain.

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