Kids, seniors plead with North Las Vegas council not to cut their programs


This is what hard times look like in North Las Vegas: a slight, dark-haired little girl in a karate uniform, begging the City Council not to close her neighborhood recreation center.

Kids who play sports are less likely to get in trouble, Miya Martinez, 8, told the council, reading from some notes she had prepared.

Kids who play sports "are more likely to be a force in their community," she said. They're "less likely to be influenced by a gang member."

Miya and her younger sister, who also stepped forward in a karate uniform, were among the hundreds of residents and city staffers who packed City Hall on Wednesday night to hear the city's plan to plug a $6.1 million hole in its fiscal 2012 budget.

The cash-strapped city, which has under­gone several rounds of budget cuts and layoffs in recent years, has little left to cut. City staff recommended a plan that included laying off dozens of employees, likely leading to the closure of city recreation centers and pools.

"With cuts of this size, there's going to be significant impacts because there's so few remaining" staffers, said Maryann Ustick, acting city manager.

For more than two hours Wednesday, children, teens, senior citizens and others spoke emotionally about how their lives had been enriched by such facilities.

Some seniors depend on the city's recreation centers for their meals and exercise, they said. The centers provide some with their only real opportunity for social connection as they age.

"When you get old, you can appreciate having a place to go," one man said.

In the end, the council decided to postpone a decision on most of the cuts until its Aug. 3 meeting. Hopefully the city can come to an agreement on contract concessions with its police union before then to bridge much of the gap, council members said.

"You'll find no council members who want to cut out these kinds of programs," Mayor Shari Buck said. "We're doing the best we can in these difficult circumstances."

North Las Vegas' original budget, approved in May, included cuts to cover a $30.3 million shortfall. The cuts included slashing 258 positions across city departments, including those of police officers and firefighters, unless concessions could be reached with employee unions.

That budget was thrown into dis­array when police early this month won a court decision that prohibited the city from proceeding with layoffs of nearly 40 union members, including a dozen police officers. A judge also granted the city's firefighters union a temporary restraining order that barred the city from laying off 35 of its members. The firefighters union has since come to a concessions agreement with the city to save those jobs. While the police union and the city have been in talks this week, they have yet to come to an agreement.

In the meantime, North Las Vegas has to look elsewhere for the money it would have saved with those public safety cuts.

Several people at the meeting criticized the police union for not offering up more concessions sooner.

"Why don't we just let the police union run the city for us?" one man said.

Police union officials have criticized the city for foolish spending and failing to support public safety the way it should.

During a special meeting earlier Wednesday, the council heard a presentation from state Department of Taxation officials about what a potential state takeover of the city's finances could look like.

Taxation officials and council members repeatedly said the meeting was informational and the city is in no immediate danger of state intervention.

The state has been keeping an eye on North Las Vegas' budget problems, and city staffers have lately suggested the city might suffer a severe financial emergency if it can't soon balance its budget. Council members have pledged to do all they can to avoid that fate.

A severe financial emergency could be triggered by one of dozens of conditions under state law, including a municipality's inability to balance its budget. If state tax officials were to take over the city's finances, they would have a lot of leeway in how they handle those finances. They would formulate a financing plan, hire a financial manager, impose hiring restrictions and negotiate and approve all contracts, including collective bargaining contracts. Those state officials, not the City Council, would have ultimate discretion in how city money was spent.

The city also could request technical financial assistance from the state at an upcoming meeting of the Nevada Tax Commission. If approved, such assistance could include a review of audits, contracts and debt levels.

Buck again insisted the city will need no such help.

"The city is not right now in danger of being taken over by the state," she said. "It's time to put this finger-pointing away. We need to pull together as a community and we will."

The city employs about 1,300 people, including about 850 public safety workers.

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

firefighter contract concessions save 35 jobs
Dozens of firefighters who faced layoffs in North Las Vegas will keep their jobs.
The City Council on Wednesday approved an agreement on contract concessions with the firefighters union to save the jobs of 35 firefighters.
The agreement includes a 5 percent base salary reduction for union members. Firefighters in the city average $162,000 a year in salaries and benefits, according to a committee formed last year to study the city's budget.
The value of the concessions is about $2 million.
The agreement is effective Aug. 1 and is good through the end of January, at which time the parties will talk again. It includes eliminating uniform maintenance pay, educational reimbursements and educational incentives.
The proposed layoffs were part of the city's plan to bridge a $30.3 million shortfall in the fiscal 2012 budget year, which began July 1.
LYNNETTE CURTIS/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
 

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