As Clark County manager, Virginia Valentine is charged with ensuring that some 2 million residents receive vital services such as fire protection, parks and child welfare. Her job also includes managing a $5.9 billion budget. Being an engineer, and a natural problem solver, gave Valentine the skills to do the job. The Florida native has been a Valley resident for almost 30 years. Before attaining the top spot in the county, she was assistant county manager from 2002 to 2006. Her time at the county was preceded by a four-year stint as Las Vegas city manager. She’ll step down from her post next month to take a job as president of the Nevada Resort Association.
You manage a huge budget. How do you allocate funding?
That is one of the challenges of the job, to prioritize, because we can’t fund everything. We start with things that affect public safety and those things that we know are important to citizens. Child welfare does well, the police and fire, parks—the things that people see and the things that people use and the things that people talk about when they talk about the quality of life in their communities.
Is there a department that’s closer to your heart?
You might think I would gravitate to public works and the planning and the development services, but the two departments where you really deal with the frailties of human beings, and where we have an impact, are University Medical Center and the Department of Family Services. The people in the Department of Family Services are making decisions every day about children that are going to effect them the rest of their lives; and UMC, what they do between the Level One trauma centers and the children’s hospital, they just do amazing things every day in a very personal way.
What is the biggest problem facing Clark County?
Finding the adequate resources to deliver those very important services.
How do we do that?
The first thing that’s going to have to happen is the economy here has to stabilize. Right now we’re still trending downward in things like the assessment of property, and the retail sales tax is still way off from what it has been. For us to continue to meet those needs we’re going to need to control our expenses and hope that the revenues stabilize at some point so we can manage with the revenues we have. In the past couple of years we’ve seen a steady decline in the revenue and we have some fixed costs that increase, and that’s very challenging.
What’s the hardest part of the job?
I can’t say that I’m particularly proud of all the cuts we’ve had to make. I have tried to help the county through what has been a very difficult time, and that has included making what have been some very difficult and unpopular decisions with respect to what we fund, what positions are kept vacant and what positions we had to lay off.
How important is collaboration with the city?
One of the hot topics right now is shared services and how we can deliver services most efficiently to the residents. A lot of people don’t know whether they live in the city or the county and they really don’t care as long as their needs are being met as taxpayers, so I think we’re going to be having a lot more discussions with the city to deliver those services more efficiently. With the kind of revenue shortage that all the municipal governments are having, it’s going to force us to be more efficient.
What don’t people realize about Las Vegas?
I wish that when people come here they could see how beautiful some parts of the desert are. I hear people when they come here and say, “Oh this is so flat.” How can you fly in here and not see Red Rock Canyon? I tell people you can ski an hour and a half from Las Vegas, or you can be in these tall ponderosa pines or these fields of yellow sage blossoms and feel like you’re the first person to ever see it a few hours out of town. It is just an amazingly rugged and beautiful landscape here.