City plans to lay off 19 workers

Because of further declines in sales tax revenue, Las Vegas will eliminate 20 positions, a move that will include 19 layoffs, and cut an additional $8 million from its budget by the end of January.

And further cuts are likely.

The information was contained in a letter to city workers from City Manager Betsy Fretwell on Friday.

She and Chief Financial Officer Mark Vincent are scheduled to review the city's darkening financial picture at today's City Council meeting.

Officials are projecting a $400 million shortfall over five years and expect to have to make up almost $14 million of lost revenue in this budget year.

In response, Fretwell said, all vacant positions will be frozen, including public safety positions.

Construction projects funded by the general fund will be put off unless they are already under contract or being built, and most employee travel and training will be canceled.

Also, the top of the pay range for executive-class employees will be cut 5 percent, which is meant to provide long-term savings, Fretwell said.

Of the 20 cut positions, 19 people are being laid off and one person is moving to a different job.

The laid-off workers will have a chance to participate in a buyout program and can stay on through January. No details about the buyout program were available Tuesday.

In the meantime, Fretwell wrote, "this is just the first in a series of actions that will be needed to bring our budget into balance."

Everyone knew that adjustments were coming, but the speed was surprising, said Don King, who recently took over as president of the Las Vegas City Employees Association, the largest of the four unions that represent most city workers.

"Up until Friday, we weren't aware that the layoffs were going to happen that quickly," he said. "We're trying to react to things now."

A meeting with union members has been scheduled for Dec. 9.

"Once that's over, I'll have a better idea of what picture they want us to look at," King said.

Personnel costs make up the bulk of expenses in the city's general fund, which covers city operations and is in dire straits because of the economic downturn.

Las Vegas hired a human resources firm to review its employee classifications and compensation packages. That study is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

It was spurred, in part, by a report the council received last year showing that average state and local government salaries have regularly outpaced private sector pay in Clark County since 1992.

State and local government salaries averaged $49,298 in 2007, compared with $41,284 for all jobs in Clark County. From 1992 to 2007, government jobs paid roughly 20 percent more, even when adjusted for inflation.

It's more complicated than a simple average because many of the government jobs require advanced education, special skills or certifications.

Such jobs tend to come with attractive benefit packages with health insurance and retirement contributions.

City officials have worried that growth in salary and benefit costs will exceed the city's ability to balance a budget.

The city's 2009 budget calls for the equivalent of about 2,900 full-time jobs.

The general fund budget originally was projected at $537 million but was scaled back by about $30 million because of revenue shortages and is expected to be reduced more.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at or 702-229-6435.