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July 30, 2015

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Passage of North Las Vegas budget raises specter of further cuts

The North Las Vegas City Council voted on Tuesday to approve more than $18 million of cuts to expenditures to balance its budgets for fiscal year 2014.

The council approved the balanced general fund, public safety tax fund and library district budgets 4-1 during a special city council meeting. Only Councilman Robert Eliason from Ward 1 voted against it, saying only that he is “Working through some issues with the city manager about (the budget).”

The approved budget will be submitted to the Nevada Department of Taxation on June 1. Now city officials must answer a question that has become all too familiar the past seven years — where will those cuts come from? North Las Vegas has until July 1 to find an answer.

“The problem is our residents have been faced with cuts and dealing with cuts for a really long time. Same with public safety,” said Ward 3 Councilwoman Anita Wood. “So the question becomes — what can we do to increase revenue? Or what can we do to get concessions from our unions and get them to work with us in a way that we haven’t seen in the past?”

The approved budgets call for each fund to operate with less money than they requested due to decreasing property tax and C-Tax revenues. The library department is required to cut $1 million, public safety must cut $3.25 million and the general fund must cut more than $14 million.

The problem is nothing new for a city that has been ravaged by the recession. Last year it declared a state of emergency to eliminate a $33 million budget gap after negotiations stalled with unions. It closed its detention center, limited overtime hours for firefighters and eliminated several office positions.

With the city already operating at a bare-bones level, City Manager Tim Hacker said two options remain — staff cuts or negotiated concessions with the city’s police, fire and Teamsters unions.

Hacker hopes the unions recognize their contracts are not realistic in the recession and agree to not take a raise. While negotiations failed last year, he is more optimistic this year will be different.

“The change from last year is I truly believe they now understand the impact of this recession,” Hacker said. “It seems to me the dialog is ‘We understand the numbers, we understand what you’re trying to do with your budget.’ That doesn’t mean they agree with it … but that’s a start.”

Wood said it would be difficult to enforce more cuts on services provided to residents. Her constituents have already complained to her about shortened library hours, less code enforcement in the neighborhood and lack of park maintenance.

Next on the chopping block could be one of the city’s three libraries, a decision that Wood admits would be difficult to explain to residents. She can only hope this is the year the city and unions finally reach a compromise and accept concessions.

So the city once again has until July 1 to figure out where cuts can be made. Hacker hopes the answer can be found at the negotiating tables, but if it can’t, he knows it could mean more staff cuts.

“All we’re really asking (the unions) is to just stay flat on July 1,” Hacker said. “We don’t want to threaten anybody’s loss of job … We hope that cooler heads will prevail.”

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