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City Council cuts 200 Las Vegas city jobs amid budget shortfall

Updated Tuesday, May 18, 2010 | 9:25 p.m.

After an emotional public hearing that lasted nearly two hours, the Las Vegas City Council on Tuesday approved a final budget for next year that cuts the jobs of 200 city employees.

The council, faced with a deficit than had grown from $70 million to $80 million since it approved a tentative budget in March, lopped another 60 jobs to help make up the shortfall.

However, after the 7-0 vote, Mayor Oscar Goodman sent another message to the city's four unions saying they could still offer concessions to help save jobs.

"Our door isn't closed," Goodman said just before adjourning the meeting.

Goodman and the council have asked the four unions for several months to agree to reopen their contracts and give up any automatic pay increases this year in cost of living, merit pay, longevity pay or step increases, plus take an 8 percent cut in salaries and benefits.

The unions have come to the table with various offers, but none have been willing to give the city the amount of concessions it needs.

As he was leaving the City Council chambers at city hall after the meeting, Goodman told reporters that the unions could still make concessions.

"Their fate is in their own hands, basically," he said. "They have to come with a financial offer to us that makes sense, where we can have a balanced budget and survive next year as well as this year. It's that simple."

Goodman said the city council could still go back in and amend its budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

"We could amend it if they come to us with the 8 percent we asked for," Goodman said. "I'll tell you this: If I had it in my pocket, I would have given it."

Some of the cuts made today will reduce the amount of city marshals available to patrol city parks and trails by a dozen in January. And the cuts will also reduce by three units a day the number of fire units available to answer calls.

The council decided not to cut one of the city jail units, as was earlier recommended, which would have reduced the number of beds available from 1,050 to 800.

"Everything that we heard today indicates that public safety is not going to be affected," Goodman said. "The fire chief said it's not going to be affected. The chief of the marshals said it's not going to be affected and the sheriff said it's not going to be affected."

Goodman didn't want to respond to comments made by the union representatives, who said more crimes will be committed at city parks because marshals won't be there and that "browning out" three fire units a day will have an impact on response times.

"I'm not getting into name-calling," Goodman said. "I hear enough of that stuff. My position is we can save these jobs. We can save these services. But we don't print money like the federal government. The one thing that I'm happy about and proud of my council for, is at least they made a decision today. They didn't duck it."

A "new city"

At the beginning of the hearing, Goodman said he was hopeful that the action the council was about to take "would be a wakeup call" and that the city employees would decide they don't want to see their co-workers lose their jobs.

"As a result of what is going to take place today, we're going to have a new city," Goodman said. "And it's not going to be as good as the old city.

"We're going to have a new city that won't be able to provide the services that our constituents have come to enjoy. They won't be able to have the kinds of comforts the city has been able to provide in the past," Goodman said. "But once again, we don't have a choice because we have to balance the budget."

'Traumatic and serious'

City Manager Betsy Fretwell told the council that a year ago, she thought the deficit was going to be $31 million for the Fiscal Year 2011. But then, over the course of the year, the city lost another $21 million in revenue, bring the deficit to $52 million.

"Our five-year shortfall more than doubled in a span of about six months, all because our revenues continued to significantly underperform," she said.

Fretwell said the cuts in the FY 2011 budget will have "tragic consequences. We will be saying goodbye to over 200 of our valued employees."

"This is traumatic and it's serious," she said.

The $477 million general fund budget is balanced, draws down the city's reserves but has "significant community and organizational impacts," she said.

She said that the earlier budget that was approved March 10 had a total reduction of 190 positions, which included not filling public safety job vacancies and reductions in city marshals and corrections officers.

The also reduced neighborhood services, closed eight community schools, and preserved "Safekey" and summer camps by adding fees. They also merged two cultural divisions and are implementing a partial closure of the Reed Whipple Cultural Center.

They also have reductions in the building and safety department, she said.

She said among the four labor groups, the City Employees Association, the largest group; the Police Officers Association, the Police Protection Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters, two have presented proposals and three have been in active discussions with the city.

"The fruits of those efforts haven't borne out completely yet," she said.

She said the budget didn't assume any concession, with the exception of the firefighters, which are in active negotiations with the city.

"There will still be opportunity for continued dialogue," she said. "We're going to need it. Looking at Fiscal Year '12 we still have a $47 million shortfall. So think about how hard this year has been. Next year's a repeat."

Some departments hit harder

Mark Vincent, the city's chief financial officer, said that in November, the city's fiscal oversight committee has realized that the deficit had ballooned to $60 million. The discussions began about making half of those cuts in programs and half in reserves.

The fiscal oversight committee met again in May and revised its budget forecast, finding the deficit would be $6.1 million more in the current 2010 budget year and $15.2 million in the 2011 fiscal year, or $21.3 million, Vincent said.

He said the cuts added Tuesday would make budget cuts of 17.3 percent for percent for all departments, but some departments would get hit harder. For example, there was a 37.7 percent cut in the Planning Department, a 36.7 percent cut in Information Technology and a 36.2 percent cut in Human Resources.

Vincent said public safety is a high priority, but it hasn't been exempt from cuts. Public safety budget items were cut 8.9 percent, general government was cut 29.5 percent cultural and recreation was cut 29.2 percent, judicial was cut 22.6 percent, public works 27.3 percent and economic assistance 33.7 percent.

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