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Employee pay large part of county budget discussion


Washoe’s Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a budget for just over $1 billion for the fiscal year beginning June 1. This was the second presentation of the budget, with the first draft of the budget approved by commissioners April 18. 

This final budget included a $580,000 increase in general fund expenses, largely for four additional staff positions in the public defender and alternate public defender’s offices. Another $444,000 was added to the capital improvement fund for exterior renovation of the county courthouse – work that had been budgeted over two years but now will be completed in one.

The county’s Chief Financial Officer Abbe Yacoben said she was appreciative of the goals commissioners set for in January that helped guide the proposed budget. 

She said it allowed county staff to ensure the commissioners’ five priorities were funded, including regionalization of emergency dispatch services, homeless services, supportive affordable housing and elections.

The new budget includes what equals about 75 new full time employee positions, bringing the total employees to 3,117. Yacoben said despite the addition, the county was still operating with fewer employees than it had in 2008 before the Great Recession, when it had 3,179. 

Washoe County's Chief Financial Officer Abbe Yacoben. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno.

From 2008 to now the county’s population has also grown, from about 409,000 to 501,000. 

“For me that goes back to your strategic planning – you talked about innovative services,” Yacoben said. “And I’m proud of this because it means that what we’re doing is we’re keeping the same staffing level and implementing technology … and really generally serving the public to what people want. Because they want more electronic service, they want more technology, and so do we.”

Commission Chair Alexis Hill said the budget presentation was the best she’d seen in her two years on the board. 

“It’s so extensive,” she said. “Most of the time we don’t go through in detail all those other funds. This budget…we should be proud of this budget because we’re making some strategic decisions, some difficult decisions, because we are trying to be cautious not knowing what we’re looking at for the next fiscal year.”

Commissioner Mike Clark suggested, along with the budget, the county provide an estimate of the economic impact of the county’s spending in the local area – how tax dollars collected are then spent in the county continue to circulate.

He also questioned spending in “indigent services” and “homeless” services and why they were broken into two funds. 

“When I was a kid, and I didn’t want to eat all my peas I kind of spread them around and put them in different piles so it looked like I’d done something, so I’m trying to figure out why this is spread around in different piles,” Clark said. 

Yacoben said money is often broken into different funds based on the revenue source, such as tax revenues versus grants and other types of money transfers. 

“It doesn’t mean there’s no overlap between the populations, it’s just the way that we have to do our fund account,” she said. “I don’t know that I could hit every single program during this presentation.”

County Manager Eric Brown added that indigent funds are required for counties to provide and cover things like veterans benefits, senior services, indigent burials and similar services, not necessarily homeless services.

Staff pay increases called out

Both Commissioners Clara Andriola and Clark said they wanted more discussion of retroactive pay increases for county staff. 

Employees in the county manager’s office received pay raises in January to bring their salaries more in line with industry wages, but many employees across the rest of the organization won’t receive pay raises until August following completion of a salary survey approved in February.  

Andriola suggested that budget augmentations likely to occur in the coming year be used to provide that retroactive pay. 

“When the time is ready, I definitely want to include that as part of the contingency for the motion [to approve the budget],” she said. 

Clark agreed.

“The economic impact of a payroll in a community creates a vibrancy in the community,” Clark said. “We’ve also got an opportunity to honor and tell the 3,100 folks that work for the county that they’re valued.”

Other business

Commissioners also approved a five-year capital improvement plan which includes purchase of major equipment, utilities infrastructure, improvements to parks, trails and libraries, and road work projects over $100,000. 

Yacoben said the capital improvements align with commissioners’ strategic vision, such as for sustainability and accessibility. 

The first year spending, approved in the new budget, is $185.2 million, with all five years totalling more than $350 million. Of that, $12.6 million will be spent to modernize elections and voting systems and $22.9 million will go to technology infrastructure projects. 

Other spending will go toward things such as sewer expansions, street sweepers, new park equipment and slurry seal for the roads. Some long term needs not yet funded include senior facilities, a new crime lab and expansion of area parks and open spaces. 

An increase in phone line surcharges was also approved to help fund the county’s 911 services along with body-worn and vehicle-mounted cameras for law enforcement. The increase raises the per line surcharge by 15 cents up to $1 per month. Central phone lines that branch into extensions will pay an additional $1.50 per month, increasing the total surcharge to $10 per month.  

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.