I-Team: Health District Has Jump in High-Salary Jobs

LAS VEGAS -- Few government entities are more important than the local health district, which provides vital health-related services, Including screenings and immunizations.

Like all agencies, the district has been coping with budget challenges during the economic downturn, but the numbers show it hasn't always been frugal when it comes to salaries.

Compared to the water agencies which the I-Team profiled earlier, the health district is small potatoes when it comes to six-figure salaries. However, on a percentage basis, the number of health district workers who are making $100,000 or more has taken a hefty jump.

Public Agency Salaries

"It's something we take very seriously. It's really been an initiative of ours, looking at overtime pay, looking at how we save money," said Jennifer Sizemore, a spokesperson for the Southern Nevada Health District.

Initiative or not, the issue of employee pay has been a mixed bag for the health district, with spending controls in some categories, but glaring exceptions in others. Some of the extra expenses were inevitable because the district moved its entire operation, exiting a contaminated building for a safer headquarters.

"I know this past year we did have some overtime associated with the closure of our building and the move into this building. Some of those costs we would have to breakdown," Sizemore said.

The I-Team broke down the numbers and found overtime at the health district has made some dramatic spurts unrelated to the move. In 2009, the district spent $590,000 on overtime. It dropped in 2010, but then almost doubled the following year. In 2012, it was at $861,000 dollars.

The most glaring numbers in the health district salary tracker are the figures for employees making in excess of $100,000. Three years ago, the district had 22 such employees. In 2012, it had 38. That's a 72 percent increase in the number of six-figure salaries. It seems unlikely those are the employees who moved the furniture to the new building.

Number of Public Employees Earning $100,000 by Agency

Another explanation is that the health district does specialized work that requires advanced degrees.

"I don't think we hired a significant amount of people who make more money, so I would have to look at the breakdown," Sizemore said. "I know we hired some senior scientists for projects, and those people do make larger salaries on the whole. As a public health agency, we do have people who are doctors or have a master's degree, and those people generally make a higher salary."

That's always been a constant and does not explain the jump in six-figure paychecks. Average base pay for the district increased three years in a row and then dropped in 2012. Although the district negotiated smaller step increases, pay still took hefty jumps in some categories. Two examples were health nurses and health specialists who earned substantial raises since 2009.

Salary Tracker

The most telling numbers are that the total number of employees increased by two in the three-year period, but total pay went up by $2 million.

"I would have to look at the breakdown of those figures, but we haven't had a chance to do that. I do think we have hired more than two employees," Sizemore said.

Not according to the records provided to the I-Team by the district.

Compared to water agencies though, the number of health employees making six figures is a drop in the bucket. The water authority has close to 500 employees who made $100,000 or more in 2012, a 41 percent increase in three years.

Other governmental entities have seen dramatic drops at the top of the pay scale. North Las Vegas decreased by more than 70 percent. Metro Police declined by 65 percent. The school district cut its number of six-figure employees by more than 50 percent. By far, the entity with the most six-figure workers in 2012 was Clark County, with more than 1,000 employees who cracked the $100,000 plateau.

While the number of employees making $100,000 or more dropped for both Metro and the school district, it should be noted that quite a few of those employees, at both, barely missed the cut and are in the $90,000 range.

In addition, while Clark County has the most six-figure employees, it is much larger than the other government entities the I-Team has examined.


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