Detention center to lose 43 workers

It's official: 43 North Las Vegas Detention Center workers will soon be out of work.

The North Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday evening approved the layoffs of 19 corrections officers and 24 civilian jail workers even after city judges, detention center workers and citizens voiced passionate opposition during an emotional 90-minute hearing.

"This is a recipe for disaster," said Terry McAllister, president of the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association. "Everyone in this community should be scared."

Mayor Shari Buck was the lone vote against the layoffs.

"Public safety is my top priority," Buck said after the vote. "I desperately wanted another two weeks to see if we could save these jobs."

But other council members pointed out that the financially strapped city must spend more money it doesn't have for every day it waits to act.

"Either we make a decision tonight or get deeper in the hole," Councilman William Robinson said.

The layoffs, effective Oct. 15, are needed because the local detention center is losing a third of its inmates to a new federal detention center in Pahrump.

The U.S. Marshals Service is cutting the number of inmates it houses at the city's 750-bed detention center from 300 to 50. The transfer of 250 inmates from North Las Vegas to the 1,072-bed Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump has begun and will be complete by mid-October, Sgt. Tim Bedwell said. The affected employees have been notified that they will be out of a job.

North Las Vegas is losing $9.7 million in revenue because of the move and is laying off the workers in an effort to offset some of that lost revenue. The city also expects to make up some of the revenue with 10 other staff positions already eliminated by attrition at the detention center, which now employs 136 corrections officers and 101 civilian jail workers.

Additional money will be saved on maintenance by closing two of the jail's older dormitories and moving inmates into newer facilities built in 2002 with federal money, Bedwell said.

But Acting Police Chief Joseph Chronister said the cuts will leave a deficit of about $2.5 million that must be made up elsewhere.

"The detention center cannot take any additional cuts," he said. "We absolutely are at the bare minimum."

The city's detention center will provide beds for 500 inmates, Bedwell said. That includes the 50 beds for inmates from the Marshals Service and 150 beds for inmates from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which both have contracts with the city. The remaining 300 beds will be for North Las Vegas inmates, Bedwell said.

Judges, detention center workers and others argued that decreasing the number of available beds so substantially will create "a critical shortage when fighting crime is more important than ever."

"We can't stop criminals from wreaking havoc on our city without being able to put criminals behind bars," McAllister said. "This plan could cause a potentially dangerous situation for our community."

North Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge Warren VanLandschoot agreed.

"It's going to put a lot of bad people on the road," he said.

McAllister referenced a 2006 study that said North Las Vegas would need 650 beds for local inmates. Without enough beds, he said, judges would be forced to release inmates who should not be on the street.

But Bedwell said the study, which was done when North Las Vegas was among the fastest-growing cities in the country, is outdated. The 300 beds for local inmates is plenty, he said.

"We average about 275 local inmates right now," he said. "There will continue to be room for them."

Council members pleaded for the city's employee unions to work with the city on contract concessions to avoid further layoffs.

"We lose sleep every night thinking and worrying about our employees and our citizens and about what this city is going through," Buck said. "We ask again, humbly, for our employees to work with us."

Councilwoman Anita Wood said that "everybody has to take a hit" in the tough financial times.

"No one here wants to do this, but at some point the bill is due, and it is due now," she said.

North Las Vegas signed a contract with the Marshals Service in 2000. The agreement is set to expire in 2015.

While the new prison will reduce the need for the Marshals Service to rent beds from city jails in the Las Vegas Valley, it won't eliminate the practice completely. Federal inmates in the midst of a trial, for example, will still be housed in the valley whenever possible to avoid daily transport to and from Pahrump, 60 miles away.

North Las Vegas, which has undergone several rounds of budget cuts the past two years, must still trim $10 million from this year's budget and $42 million from next year's. The city laid off 188 employees in June.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@review or 702-383-0285.