171 Las Vegas city workers get layoff notices

With money short and a budget deadline looming, Las Vegas officials announced Thursday that 171 employees would be without jobs come June unless city workers agreed to pay cuts.

In all, 215 positions, including 44 that are vacant, would be eliminated to help the city close an expected $70 million budget gap in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Employees were being notified Thursday whether their jobs are on the cut list.

The layoffs could be avoided if employees agreed, by amending their union contracts, to an 8 percent wage rollback, said Mayor Oscar Goodman and City Manager Betsy Fretwell.

However, city officials have also said layoffs might happen even if union members granted the wage concessions because the economy could worsen, further damaging city revenues.

"The ball is in their court. This is their choice," Goodman said. "Are they going to take care of one another and be altruistic? Or are the older ones going to say, 'To heck with the newbies; I don't care whether they lose their jobs?'

"Then we're going to have carnage."

There could be carnage even if the unions agree to concessions, said Don King, head of the Las Vegas City Employees Association, the largest of four unions of city workers.

His union is wary because the last time the city asked for concessions -- to slow the growth of personnel spending, not cut it -- it was first in line and gave up more than other unions, King said. He said he was rebuffed when he asked that his members be protected if they agree to wage cuts and other unions don't.

"If they're taking money from my membership, it should protect my membership," King said.

Fretwell said the city is taking an "all-for-one kind of approach."

"Everybody's got to give the same amount for this to work," she said. "That's the truth."

While the total number of positions to be eliminated is firm, the impact on individual departments is not, city spokesman Jace Radke said.

"The city manager's still working with the department heads to see what the final numbers will be," he said.

As of Thursday, the 171 pending layoffs included 116 City Employees Association members, who work in general government services; 21 from the Fire Department's fire safety inspection department; 13 city marshals; and 12 corrections officers. Some nonunion layoffs would take place, too.

The layoffs would affect people who use city services and facilities. For instance, the leisure services department could lose 48 employees, making it more difficult to maintain the city's parks. Fewer marshals could bring longer response times on their calls.

The Fire Department isn't losing any firefighting employees, but 25 vacant firefighter positions won't be filled, and the cuts to the inspection department would mean delays for businesses needing the department's stamp of approval.

Firefighter union head Dean Fletcher declined to comment on the city issuing layoff notices.

"It will all be done in negotiations," he said. The firefighters' labor contract is up for renewal this year and talks are under way.

Chris Collins, executive director of the Police Protective Association, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The city is expecting a $70 million shortfall in the next budget year. To meet it, $39 million is available from reserves and the remaining $31 million would come from budget cuts, including the layoffs.

With an 8 percent pay cut and the elimination of all annual raises, such as step and merit increases, longevity pay and cost-of-living adjustments, the $31 million in cuts wouldn't be needed, said Mark Vincent, the city's chief financial officer.

In the past, city employees frequently received annual raises of around 8 percent, including cost-of-living increases. Those were trimmed for most employees last year, but annual raises of 5 percent or 6 percent were still normal.

With the cuts or the wage concessions, city officials still expect a $39 million deficit to be waiting for the city in the 2012 fiscal year.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@review journal.com or 702-229-6435.