Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010 | 11:46 p.m.
After hours of discussion, the North Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday approved a measure that will cut $5.5 million from the city’s budget this year and about $7.4 million each year thereafter.
The cuts could result in the layoff of as many as 53 full-time and five part-time employees of the North Las Vegas Detention Center. Police department spokesman Tim Bedwell said previously that the cuts would result in the loss of 26 corrections officer positions, 27 civilian positions and five part-time employees.
Mayor Shari Buck was the only council member to vote against the cuts.
The reduction comes weeks after the U.S. Marshals Service announced it would be moving 250 contracted beds from the North Las Vegas Detention Center to a new facility in Pahrump.
The U.S. Marshals contract for $105.96 per bed, per day brought in about $9.7 million to the city each year.
The city doesn’t have the money to make up the difference, Bedwell said, so two towers at the jail will have to be closed. The jail will be reduced from 800 to 500 beds, he said.
More than 100 detention center employees and their friends donned bright orange shirts that read, “Don’t Let Criminals Target Our City” and “Stop the North Las Vegas Bailouts,” during the meeting.
The council chambers were filled to capacity.
The employees protested the cuts, saying their services are vital to the city’s safety.
Detention center employee Daniele Monroe Moreno said the jail is already understaffed. She argued that if cuts are made, judges would have no choice but to give lesser sentences to make more room for detainees.
“I have been here numerous times begging for more officers,” she said. “It’s not a safe environment for me...It’s not a safe environment for my city.”
Pamela Prol, who has been a civilian employee at the center since 1992, said she thought the city was spending wastefully in other areas, such as furnishings for the new City Hall.
“I voted for all of you,” she said. “How many lives are going to be ruined? When there’s not a place to put these guys, they’re back out on the street.”
North Las Vegas Justice Court Judge Stephen J. Dahl said the cuts will send a bad message to criminals.
“There has never been a better time to be a public defender,” he said.
Terrence McAllister, president of the North Las Vegas Police Union, said the police department had already given up a lot, including $6 million in cost of living allowances and benefits. The police force, he said, is 100 officers short.
“The issue on the table is beyond a sacrifice,” he said. “It says no matter how hard we work, [criminals] will walk out the back door as quickly as we walk them in the front.”
McAllister said the union wasn’t using “scare tactics” to influence the vote, but “everyone in this community should be scared” for their safety.
If the money had not been cut from the detention center, Bedwell said, it would have to come from other places, such as patrol officers or other public safety programs.
The reason for the difference between the amount cut and the amount lost from the contract is because the city could not operate the detention center and cut any more than $7.4 million, Bedwell said. The rest of the money will have to be cut from somewhere else, he said.
Councilwoman Anita Wood said the city’s unions will have to give if the city is going to balance its budget.
“At some point, this becomes a police state if all we protect is public safety,” she said, adding that the average salary for public safety workers is more than $100,000 per year. “At some point the bill is due. It is due now.”
The mayor asked council members if they should delay the vote for two weeks. But Councilman Robert Eliason urged the council to vote Wednesday, because each day of delay would cost the city $26,490 in operating costs for the detention center.
Earlier in the evening, the council heard from Joe Cain of the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce on behalf of a nine-member steering committee appointed in June to study the budget. In his presentation, Cain said that if all city employees took a 10 percent pay cut, all of the city’s budget problems would disappear.
City employees in North Las Vegas make an average of more than $100,000 per year in salaries and benefits, which isn’t sustainable, Cain said.
Bedwell said it was unclear Wednesday night how many layoffs would occur as a result of the budget cuts.
The layoffs will be the first in North Las Vegas’ public safety sector. In June, the city laid off 188 other employees.