Nearly half a million city and county government jobs could be eliminated nationwide in the next two years because of budget shortfalls, a new study estimates while noting that the cuts would further worsen high unemployment numbers.
Southern Nevada's governments have felt the budget and employment crunch along with everyone else. Unlike many other cities and counties, though, cuts to public safety jobs largely have been avoided through labor concessions and reorganization.
Clark County, for example, moved administrative Fire Department employees to front-line fire suppression and emergency medical spots and closed its heavy rescue team, moving those firefighters to a relief staff to fill in for absent co-workers and cut overtime.
No fire positions were eliminated, but the county instituted more than 200 layoffs and left 1,200 positions vacant.
"That's a pretty scary number," county spokesman Erik Pappa said. "We've been trying to not have it affect our delivery of services. Obviously it's impossible to do that, but you try to make the cuts where you're going to minimize the impact on your citizens."
Increases in unemployment and drops in consumer spending and property values have led to plummeting public revenues, which force governments to balance budgets by cutting employees and services.
The cuts will affect "not only parks, libraries and public works projects, but also public safety, police and fire services," said Ron Loveridge, mayor of Riverside, Calif., and president of the National League of Cities.
"Cities are not only the engines of their local communities, they are also the backbone of their regional economies, where investments in infrastructure and services provide a platform for private sector investment."
Based on a survey of city and county governments, the National League of Cities concluded that local government cuts could reach 481,000 jobs.
In cities that responded to the survey, 63 percent reported making cuts in public safety positions, something that largely has been avoided in Southern Nevada. Sixty percent reported public works cuts, and 54 percent said parks and recreation personnel were axed.
For counties, cuts to public works, social services and public health were most common. The survey had 39 percent of counties saying public safety had been cut.
"The depth of the current downturn ... means that surprising numbers of cities and counties report cuts in public safety personnel," states a summary of the study, performed by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "For some communities, this means fire and police stations that are closed and the potential for reduced capacity to respond to emergencies."
While local entities have staved that off for now, next year might be a different story.
"The consensus over here is that this year was bad, but next year will be worse," Pappa said.
Government coffers will be among the last to benefit from any economic turnaround, and the county already has dipped into its reserves.
"Next year, we're looking at additional cuts, probably," Pappa said.
Las Vegas officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but city leaders have voiced the same concern.
Like the county and other local governments, Las Vegas has cut costs, service hours and services, provided retirement incentives, renegotiated labor deals, mothballed projects, held positions vacant and laid off employees to make ends meet this year only to look at a deeper deficit for next year's budget.
The authors used the survey to voice support for the Local Jobs for America Act, federal legislation that would allocate $75 billion over two years to local governments and community organizations to preserve or create jobs.
The bill now is parked in three House subcommittees.
Surveys were sent to cities with populations above 25,000 and counties with 100,000 or more people. There were responses from 214 cities and 56 counties. Clark County, Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas did not participate.
Contact reporter Alan Choate at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-229-6435.