Washoe County Identifies $23.5 Million Annual Impact from Governor’s Proposed Budget; Commissioners Discuss at Strategic Planning Retreat

Washoe County Commissioners met today in a strategic planning workshop with department heads, employee representatives, and members of the public, designed as a follow up to the “Future of County Government” series recently completed, which addressed employee compensation and benefits, financial and operational sustainability, and scenario planning for the future. (These three workshops are posted on the county’s website for viewing by the public.)

Washoe County Commission Chairman John Breternitz began the meeting by stating he was a firm believer in the value of strategic planning as a way to get where you need to go. Washoe County Manager Katy Simon provided additional information developed since the last workshop, specifically that the preliminary impact analysis of Governor Sandoval’s proposed budget, which retains 9 cents of local property tax from Washoe County and shifts some state services to the county, would result in an additional $23.5 million annual impact upon the county’s annual budget. Manager Simon stated that this financial impact was an unbearable burden to Washoe County citizens, given that this impact is in addition to the $33.5 million deficit already identified for the county’s 2011-12 fiscal year budget. She also noted that since counties serve as public safety nets for their communities, this financial burden would hit the people most vulnerable such as abused and neglected children, homeless and unemployed families, seniors in need and troubled youth, as those are the primary areas of targeted service reductions from the State.

Commissioner Bonnie Weber commented that Washoe County was one of the state’s 15 counties where citizens approved an advisory question last November which said the state should seek local governments’ consent if they wish to redirect local revenues to the state or transfer state services to local governments; this action, however, did not take place before the preparation of the Governor’s budget proposal.

The Board also confirmed the county’s vision statement which was developed at their strategic planning retreat last year. The vision reads, “Washoe County is the best place in the country to live, work, recreate, visit and invest.” The Board also confirmed the county’s mission of, “working together to provide a safe, secure and healthy community” as well as their five strategic objectives: 1) safe, secure and healthy communities, high quality of life, 3) State and regional collaboration, 4) sustainable resources, 5) regional prosperity.

Performance Status. The Commissioners discussed the mid-year status update of the county’s strategic plan which identifies strategic outcomes and key performance measures for the five strategic objectives. Specifically, the Board discussed the 15 current key performance measures and their sub-measures, noting accomplishments as well as areas in need of improvement or revision. A final report will be delivered to the Board in July summarizing the county’s 2010-11 performance related to the strategic plan. The mid-year status update is posted to the county’s website at http://www.washoecounty.us/repository/files/1/midyear_update_20110201.pdf .

What’s Next? Departments will submit their draft strategic plans and budget reduction plans by March 7th which will ultimately be used by County Commissioners to inform their difficult decisions about the 2011-12 budget. The 2011-12 proposed budget will be discussed at various public meetings; a budget calendar is posted on the county’s website. A final budget will be presented for possible adoption by the Board at their May 16th meeting.

The County has already cut $123 million from its operating budget, along with 725 positions, or 16% of its workforce, and all County labor associations have taken pay and/or benefit cuts. The County’s wages over the past ten years grew 5.4% LESS than CPI in the same period. More than 6 in 10 residents surveyed countywide in December 2010 reported that service levels have declined to some degree. Commissioners warned the retreat participants and members of the public that critical services are likely to decline much further, particularly if the deficit is increased another 70% due to actions by the State.

The Board also heard from Finance Director John Sherman who noted that forecasts show revenues will continue to decline for the next two years primarily driven by lower property tax revenues, though at a lesser rate of decline than in previous years. After that, revenues will begin to moderate based on modest property value increases but will not reach levels previously seen in the past decade. Based on the County’s conservative assumptions, Washoe County faces a $200 million deficit by 2015, not including impacts of State government revenue and service shifts. Given the economic forecast, Commissioners stated that the current resetting of county service levels and citizen expectations is the new normal, and praised department heads for their efficiency and innovation in managing well over the past four years of budget cuts. They asked county officials to continue to be collaborative and work across department lines as well as with other jurisdictions, private industry, and non-governmental organizations to meet the challenges ahead. Citizens are also integral to the resetting effort including the budget process, and information received on budget priorities from a recent citizen survey will be used to help make budget decisions.