Thursday, March 31, 2011 | 1:37 p.m.
Mayor Oscar Goodman says Las Vegas city employees deserve cheers — not jeers — for their roles in helping the city through its budget crisis.
Goodman told reporters at his weekly press conference Thursday that some city employees are getting a bad rap when they're out in public.
"It's very unfortunate where they may be out in the supermarket or something and people make a gesture at them just because they're with the city and I think they're confusing us with other entities," Goodman said.
Clark County firefighters have come under criticism recently for findings that some abused their sick leave policy. However, it isn't just Las Vegas city firefighters who are facing public criticism, the mayor said.
"There's just a general comment that public employees are overpaid and aren't doing the right thing, whereas I believe we've really had the process of real cooperation to resolve all those difficult issues," Goodman said.
Goodman invited leaders of the city's four collective bargaining units to join him at the podium during his news conference.
"I thought it was very unfair that our employees in the city of Las Vegas be mottled up with perhaps, other employees in the valley here that have not been as cooperative as ours have as far as our budget quest is concerned," Goodman said.
"I thought it was the appropriate thing to straighten out the record at this time and let the public know how our employees have responded to these very challenging economic times," he said.
Don King, president of the Las Vegas City Employees Association, said his membership made concessions amounting to about $20 million over 2011 and 2012.
"Often public employees are painted with a negative picture, being greedy, being overpaid by the Chamber of Commerce and some of the other agencies," he said.
King said the LVCEA made other concessions that would result in saving the city an additional $5 million a year in the future.
"Times are tough for all of us. I've seen about 125 of my members laid off," he said.
Dean Fletcher, president of the Las Vegas Firefighters Local 1285, said city firefighters also made concessions, with a department budget about $10.5 million less this year than last year.
Mark Chaparian, assistant executive director of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, said city marshals have taken concessions and were prepared to take more concessions in the future, if necessary.
Tracy Valenzuela, president of the Las Vegas Police Officers Association, said her members gave "unprecedented sacrifices."
"All the unions have facilitated concessions to their labor agreements," she said. "The members stepped up. They took pay cuts, wage freezes, furloughs to assist the city and to reduce personnel costs.
City Manager Betsy Fretwell said that a little more than three years ago, the city staff realized it was facing a $400 million deficit within five years.
"We've cut in the last two or three years well over $100 million in operating expenses," she said. "That's over a 17 percent reduction. And, unfortunately, that has impacted 600 positions or more at the city of Las Vegas."
Those reductions have had an effect on citizens, city employees and the city's service levels, she said.
She said city staff has held 20 public outreach sessions during the last 18 months to help identify cuts the public could live with as the budget was pared back.
Some city functions were privatized, some were eliminated, some staff positions were eliminated, some work hours were reduced and administrative costs were reduced, she said.
She praised the city employees' four bargaining units for negotiating concessions to save jobs and help the city balance its budget.
"At the end of the day, collectively, $36 million over the next two years has been saved," she said. That amounts to between 3.5 percent and 11 percent reductions in city employees' pay on average, Fretwell said.
"People sacrificed to keep our city together and strong financially," she said.
She said the city's management structure was also reorganized so that in the last two years more than 25 percent of management staff was eliminated, which included cutting 28 percent of executive-level employees, she said.
Fretwell said the city is operating at the 2004-2005 funding level, but is still looking at a budget deficit at $10 million to $15 million for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
She said she thought more expenses could be reduced without the need for more layoffs next year.
The city council will get a look at the upcoming budget on April 6 and will finalize its budget for the upcoming fiscal year on May 17, she said.