LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A proposal to spend half a billion dollars is a “baby step” to bringing state worker pay into a range where it’s competitive, officials told the Nevada Legislature on Monday.

Proposals in Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo’s budget include cost-of-living (COLA) and other adjustments to help the state recruit — and retain — workers into a large number of jobs that are currently vacant. Many of those jobs are in law enforcement and the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC).

Amy Stephenson, director of the Governor’s Finance Office.

Currently, a third of the jobs in the prison system are open and the state is struggling to fill them. Vacancy rates disclosed by Amy Stephenson, director of the Governor’s Finance Office, include:

  • 21% overall vacancy rate
  • 33% vacancy rate for NDOC
  • 29% vacancy rate for the Nevada Department of Public Safety.

Stephenson outlined increases and changes in job classifications that will bring higher pay if Lombardo’s budget is approved. But even with the bump in pay, some lawmakers believe it might be below what’s needed.

“I’m still concerned about how this positions us for recruitment and retention when in general a lot of what I’ve seen when we’ve gotten into some of the details is that law enforcement or non-law enforcement when we’re looking at these significant vacancy rates and we look at just competing with local government we tend to look at being 30% behind in take-home pay — or more,” Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) said at the hearing in Carson City.

Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas).

Stephenson presented incentives for prison and police jobs that started at $48.6 million and has since been increased to $51.9 million. That number could still go up, Stephenson said.

That’s less than 10% of the state’s need for $579 million in pay adjustments — the bulk coming in the form of $474 million in COLAs, Stephenson said.

“The state of Nevada, on the whole, is anywhere between 30% and 75% behind our similarly situated counterparts,” according to Mandee Bowsmith, administrator for the Nevada Division of Human Resource Management. She explained that Nevada just stopped funding studies on the problem after the Great Recession hit.

“But that gap is just widening. And the longer that we as a state take to address these issues, the wider that gap will get and the more difficult it will be for us to catch up,” Bowsmith told lawmakers. She called the $579 million in pay adjustments a “baby step” in narrowing the gap.

Mandee Bowsmith, administrator for the Nevada Division of Human Resource Management.

Many state jobs have lower salaries because of how PERS — the Public Employee Retirement System — contributions are handled. Local government salaries are “inflated” to cover the contributions, Bowsmith said.

She said the state needs a comprehensive study of the 1,181 job classifications currently in use to get a handle on needed adjustments.

Lombardo made it a priority to remove barriers to getting people hired, and many of the job classifications have requirements that are now seen as unnecessary. Bowsmith said many of the classifications haven’t been reviewed for “a very long time.”

Stephenson said the hiring and retention incentives for sworn officers include positions in the Department of Public Safety, NDOC, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Wildlife, Nevada System of Higher Education, Gaming Control Board, Department of Agriculture, Cannabis Compliance Board, Nevada Attorney General’s Office and the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office.