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January 23, 2018

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Eliminating firetruck in Laughlin would save $3 million

Steve Smith

Steve Smith

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

High firefighter salaries and declining tax revenue could leave Laughlin with a $3.7 million deficit within a year. Recognizing Clark County would be on the hook to keep the town solvent, county officials are moving forward with a plan to allow Laughlin’s neighbor, Bullhead City, Ariz., to take over some emergency services.

Fire Chief Steve Smith said under the proposal Bullhead City’s Fire Department would respond to calls currently handled by one Laughlin truck, Truck 76, which requires 12 people to staff around the clock. The move would save about $3 million, he said.

The 12 Clark County firefighters could then join a group assigned to fill in for absent colleagues, saving the county on overtime because the group is paid at straight time.

Smith said the change, expected to take place this month, will have no effect on emergency medical service response times. The remaining fire units are adequate to cover the 235 medical calls that Truck 76 responded to 2009.

Also, because the truck responded to only 13 structural fires in 2009, Smith expects the effect on public safety to be minimal.

Ryan Beaman, Clark County firefighters union president, said the county agreed in 2002 that Laughlin needs 14 firefighters working each day “because of the special nature of Laughlin, the senior population, the fast waters adjacent to the resorts and the tourists who are unfamiliar with the nearby risks.” Taking the truck out of service, he implied, would threaten that number.

“Now is the time when we see whether or not (Commission) Chairman Rory Reid will honor the county’s commitment or go back on his word,” Beaman said via e-mail.

Reid could not be reached for comment. But Smith said that with assistance from Bullhead City “that gets you the 14 a day.”

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who represents Laughlin, used the change to again express shock at firefighter pay, in particular that reassigning 12 firefighters could lead to savings of $3 million.

“That kind of pay doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

On average, Laughlin’s 48 fire employees earn $172,957. That includes about $96,000 in base pay, $39,000 in overtime and $38,000 in longevity pay, premium pay, separation pay, allowances and leave sell-back. They also receive yearly average retirement contributions of about $43,000, plus $13,000 each for health insurance premiums.

In total, the average comes to about $229,000 each.

Broken down by hour, a Laughlin firefighter’s average regular wage is $33 an hour, but after the other compensation and benefits are included, it totals on average $78 an hour.

“This comes down to, firefighters have had incredible political clout for a lot of years and got everything they wanted, plain and simple,” Sisolak said. “They took advantage of it, and now we can’t afford it anymore.”

Sisolak said what’s happening in Laughlin is a microcosm of what’s taking place in county government because the Laughlin Town Fund consists basically of the same funding pool — consolidated taxes, property taxes and business license fees — as much of the county.

“This is what we have been talking about for more than a year — we can’t afford some of the salaries we have been paying, because the money isn’t there,” he said.

Sisolak is behind another move to attack firefighter pay at McCarran International Airport, which will also be discussed at Tuesday’s commission meeting. Aviation Director Randall Walker is going to present options to commissioners to rein in firefighter costs at the airport.

The airport’s incentive is high because it is self-funded. In fiscal year 2009, fire coverage cost McCarran $7.8 million. The average total compensation for airport firefighters is just under $200,000.

Walker is expected to talk about turning over fire coverage to a private company or to create a fire authority that the airport would control.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she looks forward to the discussion — no vote is scheduled — and “wants to see the numbers” about how a new arrangement would work.

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