Published Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 | 3:50 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 | 11:20 p.m.
North Las Vegas can’t use its financial crisis as an excuse to freeze first responders’ salaries by suspending their bargaining rights, a Clark County judge ruled Tuesday.
To close a $30 million budget gap in summer 2012, the North Las Vegas City Council voted to declare an emergency in order to suspend agreements with the city’s police and fire unions that were set in the early 2000s. The emergency declaration, which in turn suspended wage increases, was renewed in 2013.
The North Las Vegas Police Officers Association and the North Las Vegas Police Supervisors Association sued the city over the action. On Tuesday, Judge Susan Johnson ruled in the unions’ favor.
Johnson found that while Nevada law grants broad powers to cities “in situations of emergency,” it was not the Legislature’s intent to include financial crises as an allowable rationale.
The 15-page ruling did not list a damage amount suffered by the union members, but officers and firefighters could be eligible for back pay for wage increases, including merit-based raises and cost of living adjustments.
“This decision is not a stumbling block but a stepping stone presenting an opportunity for us to resolve nagging issues that have distracted, divided, and paralyzed our community for too long,” Mayor John Lee said in a prepared statement.
Interim City Manager Jeff Buchanan wrote said the city is "weighing ... legal options." Officials have not said whether they would appeal the decision.
Both parties want to meet to discuss how to proceed with negotiations.
“We understand the city’s not doing well financially,” said Mike Yarter, president of the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association. “We just want them to honor what we have in place and sit down at the table with us. I think we can reach middle ground.”
Len Cardinale, president of the North Las Vegas Police Supervisors Association — the smallest of the bargaining groups named in the lawsuit — criticized city officials for wasting money fighting the lawsuit instead of compromising with the unions.
“There’s going to be a lot of doom and gloom from the city saying they’re going to have to lay off a lot of employees,” Cardinale said. “But they’ve been misappropriating funds and misleading the public.”