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August 23, 2014

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WEEK IN REVIEW: CLARK COUNTY:

$41 million won’t go as far as it should, commission hears

Clark County held its annual budget workshop last week. The tone was dismal. The only things missing among the pie charts and bar graphs were some thunderclaps and shrieking violins.

The proposed $1.38 billion budget for fiscal 2009 would include no layoffs — a fate the state and some local governments might not escape — but it would set aside only $41 million for discretionary capital projects, much less than in recent years.

Isn’t $41 million a lot of money?

County finance czar George Stevens puts the figure in perspective, starting with the fact that county departments requested a total of $553.7 million in capital projects.

Stevens also noted that the county’s existing assets will depreciate more than $70 million during fiscal 2009. That means the $41 million isn’t enough to even cover the wear and tear on existing property such as buildings, vehicles and computers, Stevens said.

Another potential threat to that fund is a recent Nevada Supreme Court ruling that deemed complimentary casino meals tax-free. If casinos in Clark County seek a rebate, the county could lose $25 million to $30 million initially and $6 million to $7 million annually after that, Stevens said.

That news prompted Commission Chairman Rory Reid, a well-known purveyor of dry humor at commission meetings, to ask Stevens: “Are you done yet?”

Speaking of Reid, is he going to run for governor in 2010?

Officially, no decision has been reached. But Reid spoke an awful lot about the state’s financial situation during the county budget workshop.

At one point, Reid pointed out that if people compare the state’s financial position with the county’s, they would find that the county is more conservative. He drew similar comparisons throughout the meeting.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean Reid intends to run for governor. The state’s financial woes are a legitimate concern for county officials, especially because Gov. Jim Gibbons has suggested that local governments’ coffers might be part of the solution. So maybe Reid is just preparing to fend off any attempts to raid the county’s treasury. Or maybe he’s doing two things at once.

Did the county make a decision last week about a permanent chief executive for University Medical Center?

Yes. As expected, Interim Chief Executive Kathy Silver got the nod.

She had the inside track from the start, given her experience at the public hospital. She also had support of many UMC stakeholders. One county official said physicians who have contracts at UMC and those associated with the University of Nevada School of Medicine — including higher education Chancellor Jim Rogers — lobbied commissioners to hire Silver. Commissioners are expected to ratify Silver’s appointment Tuesday.

To help quench the public’s thirst for change at the troubled hospital, the county also has hired retired Navy Rear Adm. Brian Brannman, who most recently ran the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.

So are we going to see some improvements at UMC?

Time will tell. But Silver did announce one change last week.

All physician contracts now will be listed on the action portion of the county commission’s agenda, which includes items usually discussed publicly before a decision is made, creating a greater sense of transparency.

The change comes after the Sun reported on a controversial UMC contract with Dr. Dipak Desai, whose clinics are at the center of the hepatitis C scare. Desai and his physician group landed a contract worth about $1 million a year, even though they had performed the same work for only $210,000 the previous year.

Commissioners, on Silver’s recommendation, approved that contract in October. It was passed without any discussion as part of the commission’s consent agenda, a list of about 100 items that commissioners pass in a single vote.

The county dumped the pricey contract last month after public health officials linked six hepatitis C infections to unsafe injection practices at Desai’s Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.

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