SUBMITTED BY WASHOE COUNTY
The past year will go down as one of the most challenging for the County in recent history. In addition to four years of unprecedented economic decline resulting in deep budget cuts, our region experienced a series of high profile disasters: the Reno Air Races crash in September, the Caughlin Fire in November, and, most recently, the Washoe Fire in January of this year. These challenges have forced the County to evolve and make innovative changes to save taxpayer dollars and serve citizens better in the year ahead.
County Manager Katy Simon says even though times are lean, the County has kept in tune with the citizens in response to the budget cuts over the past several years. “We have prioritized our budget cuts, we’ve listened to the public and done prioritized ranking that made sure that public safety was our first priority, then the County’s judicial and social services, followed by general government functions that serve everyone, with Regional Park and Library Services unfortunately among the hardest hit this past year. We have watched prioritization work the way the public wants us to- public safety, for example, has gone from 30.5 percent of our budget to nearly 38 percent.”
In January of this year, the County Commission combined the departments of Building and Safety, Community Development, Public Works, Regional Parks and Open Space, and Water Resources to create the new Community Services Department. The move will save tax payers over one million dollars annually and provide better, more efficient services to customers.
Building and Safety provides permit services to more than 100,000 citizens living in the unincorporated areas of the County. While single family permits have increased by 228 percent in 2011, economic challenges resulted in a 67 percent reduction of Building and Safety staff since 2007. There are now just 12 full time employees processing more than 3,000 new permits, conducting nearly 2,000 plan reviews, and performing over 10,000 inspections for the County, but turnaround times for approving completed permits remain extremely fast.
Economic difficulties have also hit home for Public Works services within the County. Public Works staff are responsible for snow removal and maintenance of a total of 711 miles of paved roads and 404 miles of gravel road. While County crews were able to proactively treat 42 miles of paved road to prevent deterioration, the condition of roadways in the County has declined approximately six percent over the past three years, meaning a rougher ride for the County’s citizens.
Washoe County Social Services
During challenging times, requests for human services typically increase. In 2011, Social Services received more than 7,000 suspected child abuse and neglect reports, with nearly 2,800 of those determined to require investigation. This represents a six percent increase over the previous year, with ten fewer positions staffed. Even with those challenges, however, extraordinary effort on the part of staff reduced the number of children in foster care to fewer than 600 by the end of 2011, a 40 percent decrease from four years ago.
“We’ve been much more proactive in how we intervene with families,” said Social Services Director Kevin Schiller, “and, as a result, fewer children are removed from the home. Foster care is very expensive and placement costs about $900 per child per month. By engaging in higher level assessments, we can place children with relatives which creates a better environment for the children and reduces our costs.”
Volunteers make a difference in Washoe County
Deep cuts in many of the County’s non-mandated services have led to an increase reliance on the efforts of volunteers in the community.
The Washoe County Library System logged over 15,000 hours in 2011- a 74 percent increase over 2007 levels. Over 160 volunteers work regularly in the County’s library system.
Washoe County Parks and Senior Services also benefit greatly from the dedication of volunteers. Parks volunteers logged nearly 17,000 hours, while Senior Services volunteers worked over 11,000 hours in the last year.
A look ahead—the Board of County Commissioners’ strategic plan
In their recent strategic planning retreat, County Commissioners identified two major goals for the upcoming year on which to concentrate as part of their strategic plan: financial sustainability and supporting the region for economic development.
Chairman Bob Larkin said, “Looking forward we’ve asked the County Manager, her department heads and the elected department heads throughout the County to look at their sustainability and look at what will sustain our organization for longer periods of time. We could be in this economic recovery position for a number of years, so we need to have a longer term strategy for sustainability.” Larkin continued, ”Secondly we’ve asked all departments to think about what Washoe County can do to create an environment to help with economic recovery of our region.”
County quick facts
- 2,500 employees, with a 2011/2012 budget of $680 million.
- The County’s General Fund is $269.5 million, and the County has 34 departments.
- There are currently only 6.37 County employees per 1,000 people in Washoe County. This is compared to the national average of 10 employees per 1,000 citizens for populations our size.
- 38 percent, or $101.9 million, of General Funds go to Public Safety.
- 5 percent, or $13.0 million, of General Funds go to Culture and Recreation.
- At its peak in 2004, Building and Safety was issuing over 1,100 residential permits each year. By 2010, this dropped to 32 per year, and had increased to 73 per year in 2011.
- In 2006, Building and Safety employed 36 full-time employees. By the end of 2011, this dropped to 12- a 67 percent decrease.
- Public Works is responsible for 711 miles of paved road and 404 miles of gravel road.
- Snow plow operators are each responsible for 33 percent more territory than in 2007.
- There are currently 600 foster children in Washoe County, and 55 children looking for adoptive families. Find out more about foster care and adoption at haveaheartnv.org or by phone at 775.337.4470.
- Community volunteers save the County over $1 million each year. Library volunteers logged 15,388 hours in 2011- a 74 percent increase over 2007 levels- totaling $328,000 in value. Parks volunteers generated 16,865 hours in 2011, representing $360,000 in value. Senior Services volunteers worked 11,304 hours in 2011, representing $241,000 in value.
- The County Commission is focusing on financial sustainability and economic development in the upcoming year.