By MATT KOESTERS
The Clark County Council approved the county government’s salary ordinance at a meeting last week, but funding for the courts’ unified probation department is a problem without a solution.
Because the county no longer has access to the bulk of funds that were being accumulated in the Clark County Alcohol and Drug Services fund, the probation department — which now falls under the purview of the Clark County Circuit Courts — faces a shortfall of about $1.3 million, said County Council Vice President Brian Lenfert. The state took away the funding following misuse of funds by the courts.
“Since that funding is no longer available, [the courts] requested that funding ... to come from [the] county general [fund], and county general cannot afford to carry that additional expense,” Lenfert said. “So that was cut out of the budget that was approved.
“However, the existing salaries at their 2012 level were approved in the salary ordinance.”
That leaves it up to the courts to determine how to fund the salaries for 35 probation employees, Lenfert said.
“I didn’t want to whack  employees out of the salary ordinance,” Lenfert said. “It kind of ties the judges’ hands.”
A final decision on how the courts will handle that has not been made, said Judge Vicki Carmichael, who is the presiding judge over Clark County’s merged circuit courts.
“Mandating is always a possibility,” Carmichael said. “We hope not to have to do that, but again, with the county’s finances, we still have to operate the courts and the probation department.”
The salary ordinance’s finalization is another step to determining what the county’s operating budget will be in 2013, but that won’t be finalized until February when the state hands down the county’s budget order. The council is acting cautiously to ensure it knows about all salary changes during the course of 2013.
“One of the things different this year from 2012 is we are going to have any proposed changes in an individual’s salary during the year brought before council,” Lenfert said, “whether it’s an increase or a decrease in the salary, and even if it falls within the range for that job description in the salary ordinance.”
The council is taking measures to encourage department heads to do more with less, Lenfert said.
“The council has established that if you can do more with less staff, that you can spread a portion of those saved dollars from that [eliminated] position ... to give a small raise to the remaining employees,” Lenfert explained. “We capped that out at no more than 5 percent.”
On its face, there was one exception in the salary ordinance, and that was the salary of the county highway superintendent. Superintendent Jim Ross made $33,471 in 2012, but the salary ordinance for his position is listed at $44,000.
The raise accounts for new responsibilities being added to the position as County Engineer Hyun Lee is retiring and not being replaced, but the new county commissioners will likely have a say in whether or not the increase in the salary ordinance translates to a raise for the position, Lenfert said.
“I should have taken into account the new makeup of the commissioners,” Lenfert admitted.
If Commissioner-elect Jack Coffman has his way, there will not be a raise.
“I think that’s absurd and I don’t think it’s justifiable, especially when the rest of the county workers have not gotten a raise in over four years,” Coffman said. “I don’t think there’s any way to justify one person getting a raise like that.”
A call to Board of Commissioners President Les Young seeking comment was not returned.
Coffman said that in lieu of raises, he was more interested in restoring the county’s 3 percent contribution to the Public Employee Retirement Fund.
Lenfert did not rule out revisiting the salary ordinance when the council returns from recess Tuesday.