When tourists stopped coming to Nevada due to the pandemic, budgets started drying up.
Clark County estimates $149 million were lost from sales tax and gaming license fees. That has left many county operations, like child welfare services and the detention center, working from a deficit.
Despite the losses, there could be a ray of hope for the county. Two weeks ago, the county projected an 18 percent budget increase, a possible sign that things could be getting better.
The tentative budget approved is $1.5 billion, which is a $230 million increase from the past fiscal year.
Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick told KNPR's State of Nevada those numbers are based on expected revenue with a very conservative approach to growth.
“It is a bit of good news and there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
The budget does not include federal money from the pandemic relief bill passed earlier this year, which, right now, the county is waiting for guidance from the Treasury Department on how it can be spent.
Kirkpatrick credited the increase to higher-than-expected sales tax revenue and stabilized property taxes.
She also applauded county employees for taking a pay cut at the beginning of the pandemic. The county also had to freeze hiring. Kirkpatrick said with the change in budget, the county may now be able to bring back some of those positions.
While the budget increase is a bit of good news, Kirkpatrick noted there are still some budget issues ahead.
For instance, University Medical Center, the only public hospital in Southern Nevada, is likely running a deficit because of the extra costs connected to the pandemic, specifically the cost of nurses.
And McCarran International Airport, which the county oversees, struggled because it went so many months without many planes moving, Kirkpatrick said.
Despite the downturn, she said the county is not planning on hiking fees or laying off people at the airport to make up for the lost revenue.
Another challenge for the county's budget will be demand for social services, Kirkpatrick said.
“We also know that our social services needs are going to be up," she said, "So, we have to ensure that we can help folks get back on track as well.”
The county was already dealing with a large homelessness problem and a lack of affordable housing. The pandemic just made those issues worse.
The county has budgeted $23 million to help address homelessness.
Kirkpatrick said the county takes a different approach to homelessness. First, it works to keep people in their homes, to begin with, often by providing wrap-around services like job training and food benefits.
Secondly, the county works to get people who are currently on the street into a stable, transitional home.
“During the pandemic, we were able to place about 700 people just through those dollars that we had set aside,” Kirkpatrick said.
She said the county will continue to try to provide services to the estimated 6,000 people who are without a home by offering mental health, addiction and other social services.
The county has also budgeted $10 million to help with affordable housing. Kirkpatrick said the money will go to both short-term and long-term programs to address the problem.
In the short term, the county works to keep people in homes they can afford, and in the long term, the county is working with developers to cut county fees for affordable projects.
“Clark County is thinking outside of the box on different ways to ensure that folks within our community have several different options or tools to help them succeed,” she said.
Besides homelessness and affordable housing, the county is spending $12 million on truancy.
“It’s a collaboration of social services, juvenile justice services and the Clark County School District and this is the way to keep kids out of trouble and out of the system,” Kirkpatrick explained.
She said that during the pandemic the number of reports of truancy went up. Teams checked on students who had been absent from school for several days.
Kirkpatrick explained that when a child is absent from school for several days something is going on, and when the truancy team checks on them, they can help the entire family.
For instance, they found students who weren't at school because they were babysitting younger siblings. The county was able to find the family child care so the older siblings could focus on education.
They also found students who had grown out of their clothing and were too embarrassed to get on Zoom and Google Meet classes because they didn't have clothing.
The truancy teams also found kids who didn't know how to use the technology needed for online classes.
Kirkpatrick said the program is already expanding, and it only started in October.
While there are challenges ahead, Kirkpatrick said she was "overjoyed" at the change in the country's finances.
“As a whole, as Clark County, I think that we’re headed in the right direction. We were super conservative, not knowing what to expect, and I think that put us on a track to recover a little bit faster than we anticipated,” she said.
Marilyn Kirkpatrick, Chairwomen, Clark County Commission
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