Las Vegas Sun

August 13, 2022

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ANSWERS: CLARK COUNTY:

County funds under scrutiny from SEIU

After union officials expressed disbelief at a county report finding the average wage increases for thousands of union members since 2008 had totaled 12.5 percent, county officials Friday had to agree.

A column a few weeks ago about $1.9 million in interest found in a Clark County account prompted some fund-searching by the largest county employee union.

The Service Employees International Union, representing about 6,500 county workers, dug into a list of about 590 funds to see if other county accounts have money just sitting there collecting interest. (The $1.9 million was interest accrued over seven years from a capital improvement bond that went unspent.)

As the union fights the county for wage increases, finding that kind of money would go a long way toward proving the county is doing better financially that it lets on.

Has it found anything to bolster its case?

That’s debatable. The 590 funds aren’t all strictly “Clark County” funds. According to county number-crunchers, only one is pertinent. That’s the one called “County General Fund.” Over 12 months, the interest collected on that fund has averaged $130,000 a month, about $1.6 million total.

What about the hundreds of other funds?

Many of those are for entities such as the Southern Nevada Regional Transportation Commission, Metro Police and so on. Some of the funds, too, are those whose interest can only be used, by law, for certain things such as hiring police officers or purchasing fire equipment.

Added up, how much interest do all the funds generate?

A lot — between $4.8 million and $7.7 million a month. All that interest is pooled and put into the hands of the county treasurer, who invests it. When investments pay off, the accounts get a share of the benefit based on their share of the entire pool. For instance, if the county’s general fund accounts for 1 percent of the investment pool, and the investment pool earns $100, the county gets back 1 percent of that, or $1.

Is this the first time anyone in a union has brought up this investment pool?

No. County officials say another union brought it up a few years ago when arguing against cuts in benefits and wages. The firefighters union sent a letter in March 2009 to commissioners that said: “We are happy to report that the financial health of the county is not as bleak as you have been led to believe.”

County officials said firefighters used the investment pool interest income to argue that the county has more money than it lets on. However, when the county/firefighters argument came before an independent arbitrator, the arbitrator sided with the county’s explanation of its financial position, finding that only certain money is available for operational use. The arbitrator also noted the county faced a significant fiscal deficit. One year later, the county says that deficit remains.

How does the SEIU respond?

For the moment, Nick Di Archangel, SEIU spokesman, said the interest income was simply something the union was examining. He wasn’t immediately sure if or how the information might benefit the union’s cause.

Even if the money were available, would it necessarily be used to bolster the wages and benefits of union members?

That would be up to county commissioners. But consider, county officials say, that 3,947 SEIU members received average wage increases of 12.6 percent over the past three years.

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