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September 19, 2014

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Commissioners rip into Health District boss, agree on funding figure

Click to enlarge photo

Lawrence Sands, chief health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District, speaks during a Nurse-Family Partnership Graduation at the Health District Tuesday, August 9, 2011.

After learning the Southern Nevada Health District’s reserve funds had grown equal to about 25 percent of its overall budget, Clark County commissioners told the district it would get about half of the money it expected from the county.

About half is equal to $8.5 million of the $17.9 million figure the Health District had put into its tentative budget for fiscal year 2012-13. If that holds, the district’s budget reserve would drop to about 16.6 percent of its total budget. That percentage, county administrators said, is more in line with what is expected of the agency.

The Health District’s original tentative budget for fiscal year 2013 anticipated a $2 million cut.

Before the unanimous vote, commissioners had sharp words for Lawrence Sands, Health District director. After Sands stood before commissioners and said none of them had contacted him beforehand, Commissioner Steve Sisolak seethed.

“I’m feeling a sense of arrogance, that you just don’t want to cooperate,” Sisolak said. “Before you come back, you and I better talk because this is nothing compared to what it will be next time.”

Sisolak recounted different issues he thought Sands should have talked to county officials about beforehand, such as the abrupt closure of the Health District’s main building on Shadow Lane in April. Sisolak said Sands closed the building unilaterally and without being told to do so by any government building inspector.

“I think one of the problems, the biggest problem, is communication,” Sisolak added, “the fact that you think we should call you.”

Click to enlarge photo

Steve Sisolak

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said things in the Health District “appear all over the place and crazy.”

“How do we get the Health District back on point?” he asked.

Commissioners were also disturbed that it appears that some of the county funding meant for operations had been diverted to a building fund. The Health District is in need of a rehab or replacement of its 47-year-old main building on Shadow Lane. The district estimates a new building would cost $63 million; purchasing a building would cost $37 million, and making repairs on the existing building would cost $6.7 million.

In its tentative budget, the Health District outlined how $10.5 million in bond reserve funds could be transferred to offset the cost of purchasing or constructing a new building.

Mary Beth Scow made it clear that none of the $9.3 million in county funds tentatively budgeted for next year could go for anything except operational costs.

“Having that building fund has created such a rift because the county money … is really operational,” the commissioner said. “The Health District can’t own property or build a building. That should be used for operations.”

The Health District sued Clark County last summer. One of its disputes is Scow’s contention that it cannot own real estate. It believes it can. The Health District also believes it is entitled to all property taxes collected from 3.5 cents per $100 in assessed property value.

With the county still reeling from the recession, which led to a massive decline in property tax revenues, the Health District’s budget for next year still includes an increase of about 2.5 percent in employee salaries and benefits. About 78 percent of its budget goes to salaries and benefits.

Commissioners have cast a wary eye toward the agency since about two years ago, when the Health District board approved wage increases for most employees of about 5.5 percent.

The increase was contract-guaranteed, but commissioners were surprised that none of the board members had asked the union for concessions like other public employee unions.

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  1. Reserve funds? Who does the Health District think they are? Metro? Maybe they should pay those employee raises from that fund?

  2. "The Health District sued Clark County last summer. One of its disputes is Scow's contention that it cannot own real estate. It believes it can. The Health District also believes it is entitled to all property taxes collected from 3.5 cents per $100 in assessed property value."

    All government agencies are creatures of the statutes creating them, which essentially gives each agency the box it has to live in. This isn't rocket science. If the statutes are too vague for plain interpretation, that's an easy request for clarification to counsel for the legislative body. Or a simple petition for declaratory judgement from the court.

    I'm siding with Sisolak here -- this is a mere county agency not liking its box, and the guy they put in charge has an ego problem. Far too common among bureaucrats. Good to see the budget ax fall!

    "I heartily accept the motto, 'That government is best which governs least'; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically." -- Henry David Thoreau 1849 "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience"

  3. the Health District needs to refocus on American citizens and stop spending our tax dollars on illegals. Check out the lines at the free immunizations--very few speak English. Sure illegals need vaccines but we shouldn't have to pay for them. When they send their illegal anchor babies to "free" K-12 they can at least pay for the required vaccines.

  4. "the Health District needs to refocus on American citizens and stop spending our tax dollars on illegals."

    Roslenda -- again, all government agencies are creatures of the statutes creating them. And part of that is compliance with the Constitutions, including "No PERSONS shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Until you can prove "illegals" can't be included the definition of "persons" take your bigotry elsewhere.

    "[Our] principles [are] founded on the immovable basis of equal right and reason." -- Thomas Jefferson, to James Sullivan, 1797

  5. Killer: Do ya think the Commissioners have any authority to enact statutes? Do you think management (at the Health District) has any decision-making capacity on which programs to emphasize? Killer, do you think things through? And what do you mean by bigotry? I'm of mixed race and am color blind. I do prefer CITIZENS over ILLEGALS and believe American taxpayers should have a say in how their tax dollars are spent.

  6. "Killer: Do ya think the Commissioners have any authority to enact statutes?"

    Roslenda -- no, only county ordinances, since they're not the legislature. The rest of your post is self-evident.

    "The struggle for liberty has been a struggle against Government. The essential scheme of our Constitution and Bill of Rights was to take Government off the backs of people." -- Columbia Broadcasting Sys., Inc. v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 412 U.S. 94, 162 (1973), Justice Douglas concurring

  7. The County Commissioners present a very one-sided version of the story. Both the current Chief Health Officer and his predecessor have been seeking a new building for many, many years. They have presented evidence of health hazards to the employees and the public, but the Board of Health has just kicked the can down the road by asking for more studies and stopgap repairs to address the major violations and safety hazards. The County Commissioners began last year to destabilize the Health District by severely underfunding it and continuing this action again this year. The Commissioners appear to care little about the public's health and are attempting to make it appear that the current situation is the CHO's faullt. When you kneecap someone, don't criticize him for being unable to walk.

  8. "The Commissioners appear to care little about the public's health and are attempting to make it appear that the current situation is the CHO's faullt."

    digger -- hardly. Last year's fiasco with that Overton farm dinner showed the CHO has too much money and far too much power. The cure is the budget ax, which I applaud the Commissioners for using.

    "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are 'I'm from your government and I'm here to help.'" -- the late President Ronald Reagan

  9. Killer, you're not listening. The Commissioners have all the authority they need to restrict Health District budget activities. They can deny funding for things that are not a priority. It is time for government to respect taxpayers and find a new way of doing business. Cliches and platitudes do not help find solutions.

  10. "Killer, you're not listening."

    Roslenda -- you asked, I answered. I don't contest your last post about the Commissioners authority to restrict or otherwise regulate this health district, so long as it doesn't conflict with state law. So there's nothing to "listen" to.

    "In the general course of human nature, a power over a man's subsistence amounts to a power over his will." -- Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper 79, 1787-88