Time Running Out, But Future Of County's Senior Law Project Still Uncertain

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RENO, NV - The Washoe County Commission, senior citizens and other interested parties emerged from a two hour workshop Tuesday afternoon with the future of the Senior Law Project undetermined and no clear direction ahead.

The law office located in the Washoe County Senior Services building has provided free legal services to people over 60 for 20 years, but recent budget cuts and proposals to outsource its functions have limited its present day effectiveness and raised questions about its future.

Senior Services Director Grady Tarbutton has pressed for privatizing its function, outsourcing it to Nevada Legal Services or some similar organization.

But some seniors and their advocates say that would lead to a reduction in the level of service citing experiences with Nevada Legal Services.

It's unclear how much outsourcing would save the county. Much of the funding comes through state grants.

The Senior Law Project receives no money from the county's general fund, but does get funding through a share of the ad valorum tax. That share has been reduced in recent years prompting budget cuts which have trimmed staff reduced its services.

New clients are told the office may not be able to commit itself long-term to their cases.

Due to the uncertainty of the office's future, some grants totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone unclaimed.

One knowledgeable source tells us an investment of $280,000 from the county's general fund could restore the staff.

Whether it continues host the service or farms it out, the county is legally bound to provide legal services to seniors.

The workshop ended with no decisions and some of the commissioners, including two new members saying they needed to learn more before making a decision.

They don't have much time to get up to speed. State officials say a decision needs to be made by early February in time to apply for grants.