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April 17, 2014

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County family services director: Cuts would cause chaos, cost jobs

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Clark County Department of Family Services Director Tom Morton told lawmakers today that a proposed 10 percent cut in state assistance would cause chaos in the agency and likely lead to the elimination of 87 jobs.

Morton told the Legislative Interim Finance Committee that the proposed reduction in state aid would mean a loss of $10.7 million to the agency responsible for the welfare of children in Clark County, on top of a $10 million cut by the 2009 Legislature. If implemented, the cuts would lead to case managers, who now oversee 20-30 cases, being saddled with 50-60.

The department currently has 266 positions and would have to eliminate 87 or possibly up to 100 jobs. "There is no way the agency can operate with that loss of personnel," he said.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, countered, telling Morton there are "tremendous inefficiencies" in his department and not enough has been done to save money.

Buckley said she would have a tough time reducing services for foster care or adoptive parents and agreed that the agency could not lose that many employees. But she told Morton the agency must look at different ways to save money.

The face-off came during the committee's hearing on the impact of proposed cuts to overcome an $881 million hole in the state budget.

During the hearing some lawmakers disagreed with Gov. Jim Gibbons' recommendation to close the Summit View Correctional Center, which houses hard-core juvenile offenders in Clark County. They pointed out the state would still be paying $1.2 million a year to pay off the $15 million bond to build Summit View and only have an empty building.

The savings from closing Summit View is estimated at $1.5 million. The plan calls for opening 20 more beds each at Elko and Caliente and hiring additional staff at those facilities.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said she was concerned about public safety in shifting the inmates to the state less secure reformatories in Elko and Caliente.

Referring to the juveniles at Summit View as "hard core," Leslie said, "I would rather see us close Elko and Caliente. I'm not the only one leaning in that direction."

Mike Willden, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency is looking for a private company to take over Summit View "so we would not have a sitting empty building." But there are restrictions on its use under the $15 million bond that was sold to build the facility, which is more like a state prison than a juvenile facility.

Larry Carter of the Clark County juvenile division told the committee that the closure of Summit View would shift $449,900 in costs to local government because five inmates are in county custody waiting to be accepted by the state. The county would have to pick up the cost of driving and escorting these inmates to the reformatories in rural Nevada.

Diane Comeaux, chief of family services for the state, said it has had an informal agreement with Clark County to accept the delinquents within 30 days and that has been closely monitored.

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