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November 28, 2014

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ANSWERS: CLARK COUNTY:

‘Brownouts’ could cut fire union overtime

The relatively high pay for Clark County’s firefighters, boosted by millions in overtime, led to a discussion during Friday’s meeting of the Committee on Community Priorities of “brownouts” for county fire stations that aren’t very busy.

What’s a brownout?

It’s being tried in other parts of the country to combat what seems to be an epidemic — firefighter salaries that have grown so large that local governments can’t afford them. Essentially, brownouts take a fire vehicle, or even a fire station, out of service on a rotational basis as a way to cut costs. When taken out of service, firefighters who would normally staff that vehicle or station can fill open shifts elsewhere without being paid overtime. Boston pulls out ladder trucks used in training. Sacramento rotates a firehouse closure. But that move in 2008 also increased the response times by an average of 94 seconds in the neighborhoods where firehouses were temporarily shuttered.

Committee member Alex Dixon, director of planning and analysis for Paris Las Vegas, Bally’s and Rio Las Vegas, asked the county’s fire chief, Steve Smith, about the possibility of using brownouts.

Smith replied that he would “never look at entirely shutting down a station.” He added that if he had to try brownouts, “underutilized” stations would be targeted first.

“What I’m concerned about,” Dixon responded, “is if we don’t get a handle on salaries and benefits, (it will) result in cutting services that will increase response times to fires. The public needs to be aware of the choices.

“It’s not sustainable for us to continue to pay at the rate we’re paying and the increases we’re paying,” he added.

The Committee on Community Priorities began meeting in August and will meet two or three more times, finishing up in February, at the latest. It has been tasked with examining every county department to prioritize services and create a list of cost-saving recommendations.

•••

What’s going to happen with the county’s storage of office furniture, which became the focus of heated discussion by the county commission two weeks ago?

The issue was how much the county spends to store furniture, how much it costs to use interior designers to arrange the furniture and other associated costs. It came up during a scheduled vote to increase the amount of rented warehouse space from 2,850 square feet to 7,850 square feet.

Increased storage space is needed to accommodate county office furniture over the next few months, said Quentin Abramo, owner and president of Faciliteq Architectural Interiors, which stores and installs the furniture. In the next few months, Abramo said, 700 office work stations will be moved into storage to make way for remodeling in the Family Courts building, vacating a building and other movement. That furniture will be refurbished and reused, a process that Abramo said will save the county $1 million.

That sounds pretty good. Does that satisfy Clark County commissioners?

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

Well, the issue was highlighted by Commissioner Steve Sisolak, and on Friday Sisolak was still waiting for county staff to provide him with invoices and price comparisons so he can see whether the county really has saved any money using this arrangement. Since raising the issue, he said a half-dozen department heads have told him they would like the option of being able to purchase office furniture “at Office Depot” and other retail outlets. Faciliteq has had a contract with the county for 10 years.

Sisolak also has not gotten a definitive answer from legal staff about whether state law requires the county to hire interior designers to install office furniture. During the hearing two weeks ago, he was told interior designers cost the county $55 an hour to do that work.

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