Clark County officials protesting governor's budget method

Clark County officials are protesting Gov. Jim Gibbons' call for identifying ways to cut child welfare and juvenile justice budgets, saying talks should have come before the order.

"This is an extraordinary thing in many ways," County Commission Chairman Rory Reid told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a Tuesday report. "We're saying, 'Time out. We don't want to play this game. We want to start over and talk about what the rules are."'

Reid's comments came as Gibbons called collecting budget-cutting plans from various state agencies "only prudent" given the
prospect of slumping tax revenues and other economic problems.

"Just as families and businesses are tightening their belts, government needs to do the same," he said.

The Republican governor's call a week ago for 5 percent cuts has also drawn fire from Jim Rogers, State University System Chancellor, who said he wouldn't go along with the request and suggested Gibbons should call a special Legislative session.

Gibbons said his idea of planning for possible revenue problems "does not include calling for a special session for tax increases."

State Department of Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden said that if Clark County doesn't submit budget reductions from the departments of Family Services and Juvenile Justice Services, he'll make decisions without them.

"The request of them was simply, 'If a 5 percent cut has to be made, where would you make it?"' Willden told the Review-Journal. He said the proposed budget cuts were due to the governor by Monday.

Willden said he understood the concerns of the fast-growing county, which has 1.9 million of the state's 2.6 million residents.

His target is to cut $1.7 million from the $33 million the state will provide the county's Family Services Department in 2008. In 2009, the target is $1.9 million from the $39 million that had been budgeted for Clark County.

The state provides $1.7 million to statewide juvenile justice programs. Willden said the counties collectively were asked to submit proposals that would slice $84,000 from that budget.

"We're looking for recommendations and input," he said. "Washoe County submitted recommendations, Clark didn't. I'm disappointed; frustrated, but we will make our decisions on what's best for Clark County absent their management team."

Reid joined County Manager Virginia Valentine and the chiefs of Clark County's family services and juvenile justice departments in sending letters to Gibbons, who is looking for $3.5 million in cuts over the next two-year budget cycle.

"The State of Nevada has historically underfunded services to our most vulnerable citizens, including youth involved in the child welfare or juvenile justice system and indigent and uninsured patients seeking medical care," Reid said. "These systems cannot afford further reductions in funding."

Juvenile Justice Director Cherlyn Townsend said every dollar the state saves from closing juvenile detention units would cost Clark County taxpayers $2.40.

"Given the current revenue projections in Clark County, I do not expect that we can absorb this additional cost shift from the state to the county," she wrote.

Family Services Director Tom Morton said foster care managers in Clark County have a "dangerously high" level of 39 cases each, compared with national standards of 12 to 15 children per case manager.

The department also is working with the National Center for Youth Law, which filed a lawsuit alleging that welfare agencies in Nevada are jeopardizing the safety of children in their custody.

Morton said the consequences of not filling positions could have huge financial implications if the county loses the lawsuit.

Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal,

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)