Las Vegas Sun

August 1, 2014

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Local government:

UMC not the only drag on Clark County’s budget outlook

Most of the services provided by Clark County are paid for using revenues from property tax collections. But several county functions — ranging from airports to the Las Vegas Township Constable’s Office — are expected to pay for their operations using fees and other charges they collect from customers, much like a private business.

While some of these “self-funded” operations make enough money each year to cover their expenses, some find their budgets in the red.

When that happens, the department has several options, including cutting staff, keeping vacant positions open, raising prices or drawing on their reserves. Except for a few special cases where the county provides a subsidy, these operations must end the fiscal year with a balanced budget.

Some self-funded operations, such as the county shooting complex, have shown improvements and are nearing profitability while others, such as University Medical Center, present a continued funding challenge for the county.

On Monday, commissioners will vote to approve the county’s final budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The budget includes 11 self-funded enterprise operations.

Although they don’t contribute to the county’s $41 million general fund deficit, these operations aren’t helping the county’s bottom line.

Here’s a look at several county operations expected to bring in less money than they spend next year and one that's projected to run a surplus:

    • Department of Aviation

      One of the bright spots among enterprise operations, the Department of Aviation oversees McCarran International Airport, Henderson Executive Airport, North Las Vegas Airport and two other airports in rural parts of the county.

      The department is expected to bring in $495 million in revenue next year — a $6 million increase from fiscal 2013 — through a combination of landing fees, building rentals, terminal concessions, slot machines and parking fees.

      Expenses for the airports are projected to be $471 million, leaving a $24.3 million operating surplus.

    • Las Vegas Township Constable

      The financial health of the constable’s office is expected to decline again in fiscal 2014, continuing a trend that coincides with the election of John Bonaventura to lead the agency in 2010.

      The office generates its revenues through fees charged for services provided by its deputies, who enforce evictions and serve civil documents such as subpoenas, property liens, court summonses and wage garnishments.

      Collected fees have fallen $500,000 since 2012 and are projected to be $2.75 million during the next budget year, well short of the $4.9 million the office is budgeted to spend on employee salaries, benefits, and other supplies and services.

    • A new sporting clay course opens at the Clark County Shooting Complex, 11357 N. Decatur Road, on Friday Jan. 18, 2013. The new course takes shooters to 30 target shooting stations across 75 acres of desert in a sport also known as "golfing with guns."

      Shooting complex and parks

      The 2,900-acre shooting complex in the north valley has relied on county subsidies to balance its budget since it opened in 2010, including $250,000 in fiscal 2013.

      The outlook is improving at the complex, where annual revenues have steadily increased and are expected to keep going up with the recent opening of the new sporting clays course.

      Despite a projected $2.4 million in revenues — a 75 percent increase from fiscal 2013 — the complex is projected to be $251,000 in the hole for fiscal 2014, requiring the use of its reserve funds to close the gap.

      The shooting complex isn’t alone as a money-loser among the county’s recreation services; the parks system also is expected to lose $1.7 million in fiscal 2014.

    • University Medical Center

      Parsing through University Medical Center’s budget is tricky due to the varied funding sources for the hospital, which include payment from patients and insurers, as well as support from the local, state and federal government.

      Regardless of where the money originates, University Medical Center won’t have enough of it again in fiscal 2014 and will need a subsidy from Clark County, continuing years of operating deficits largely caused by the high number of uninsured patients UMC treats.

      The county will be on the hook for at least $30 million in subsidies to the hospital in fiscal 2014, in addition to the $100 million it normally contributes.

      Commissioners are tired of footing the bill for losses at UMC and are considering a variety of options, including a potential property tax hike, to shore up finances at the public hospital.

    • Exterior image of the Clark County Detention Center.

      Detention Center

      Although the detention center generates revenue — a projected $3 million next year — it’s not classified as an enterprise fund like other operations on this list and instead will rely on a $156 million transfer from the county’s general fund to pay for operations.

      During a budget meeting in April, Commissioner Tom Collins indicated he thinks the detention center could bring in more revenue of its own, freeing up needed money for other county services.

      “If we didn’t have a detention center, if we turn that over to (Corrections) Corporation of America, could we put that money into parks and recreation and public safety?” Collins asked county staff during the meeting.

      The answer from staff was yes, but Collins didn’t press the issue of privatizing the detention center beyond that. Still, his comments shine light on one way the county could save money on what is now one of its biggest budget expenditures.

    • Building Department

      A steep drop in development during the recession battered the Building Department’s budget, forcing staff cuts and the use of reserves to make up for lost revenue.

      Although the economy has stabilized, the Building Department is still lagging behind where it was during the boom and is facing a $10 million deficit in fiscal 2014, which will be covered by reserves.

      Despite several withdrawals, the department still has $10 million in reserves for future years and has not received money from the general fund for two decades.

    • Public parking

      The county’s aging parking garage near the Regional Justice Center is becoming increasingly costly to maintain and is projected to be $924,000 short on its 2014 budget after running a surplus of several hundred thousand dollars in both of the past two years.

      Next year’s shortfall is largely due to a one-time $800,000 increase needed for improvements and renovations to extend the life of the garage.

      Even after the renovations, $1.2 million in reserves remain for the garage and it is expected to be back in the black in fiscal year 2015.

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