Counties: They won't take some cuts

County officials served notice Thursday that, beyond a certain point, they will have to refuse some budget decisions that heap more costs on them, either by refusing to pay or by eliminating services.

Jeff Fontaine, head of the Nevada Association of Counties, made the statement during discussion of the budget proposal eliminating more than $11 million in state support for senior citizen property tax breaks.

"I urge the committee please (don't) pass this added cost on to the counties," he said. "Another cost impact to the counties, we simply cannot afford."

He said counties would probably have to eliminate the program, which helps low income seniors remain in their homes.

But if the counties refuse to pay, Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden said the state would have only two options.

"If they don't pay, we'd either be forced to close the program down or go to debt collection," he said.

Director of Administration Andrew Clinger said the same thing.

Referring to a variety of cuts proposed in Gov. Brian Sandoval's budget, Fontaine said he couldn't say what would happen if the counties can't afford some of those costs. But he made it clear going after the counties legally probably wouldn't help the state much.

"I think under Nevada Revised Statutes, if a county found itself in a situation where they meet certain conditions, they would become a financially distressed county and the Department of Taxation would have to step in as it did in White Pine County a few years ago," he said.

He said counties have pretty much eliminated what they can but that they're restricted by the mandates imposed by the state to take care of indigents, operate the courts and other such functions.

"You start with the libraries and the parks," Fontaine said. "Then you get to the point where you cut public safety functions, eliminate law enforcement, closing fire stations."

"The options are pretty limited and, in some counties, they're out of ways to cut their budget," Fontaine said.

The most expensive cost shift, Fontaine said, is the long-term care funding shift. At present, state, federal and local governments share the cost of caring for Medicaid eligibles in the long term care program. The governor's budget would pull the state out of that partnership, saving the state but costing counties $37 million a year.

Another $10.6 million would be shifted to the counties by making them pay for pre-sentence investigations now covered by the state.

There are also cuts to the mental health courts, rural development programs, sexually transmitted disease programs, juvenile justice and youth camps as well as child protective services. On top of that, the state plans again to take the property tax money which supports the indigent accident fund - a total of about $25 million a year.

Those reductions discussed Thursday are just in the human services area. There are numerous other reductions in the Sandoval budget plan that affect other local government programs. Altogether, the proposed budget would save the state general fund, and impose on counties, more than $76.6 million in costs. In addition, it would dump programs and services on the local governments totaling $40.5 million.


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