Las Vegas firefighters union, city at odds over contract


Las Vegas firefighters and city negotiators cannot agree on new labor concessions that city officials say are needed to balance the city's budget without further raiding a dwindling reserve account.

"We requested mediation, so I guess in their terms it's impasse," said Dean Fletcher, president of IAFF Local 1285. He described it as finding an "independent person to try to reach a consensus."

"I think we can work it out," he said. "But I think we need help."

The City Council is scheduled to hear a presentation on the negotiations today .

Last year, the firefighters union agreed to eliminate a 3.5 percent cost-of-living raise and a $1,500 per employee uniform allowance. The deal also reduced step raises by half, required a higher employee contribution to health insurance, cut a paperwork payment to paramedics and EMTs by half and increased the number of "roving" firefighters to reduce overtime.

The firefighters' contract runs through next year, but many of the concessions were for one year only and expired Thursday. The paperwork payment, which at one time paid $30 per incident to paramedics and $20 to EMTs as a "quality assurance" measure, is being eliminated this year.

The city wants to keep those concessions in place and add a 3 percent pay cut and a 50-50 split in any contribution increase to the Public Employees Retirement System. The city previously agreed to cover the increase.

Doing all of that would trim the projected Fire Department budget by $5.3 million, which would still be short of the savings goal of $6 million.

The union's counterproposal would keep the cost-of-living raise at zero and maintain the lower step raise rates and the higher health insurance premium but would not include the cuts in pay and the uniform allowance or the higher PERS rate. That would trim $2.3 million, $3 million less than the city's offer.

Fletcher argued that the city's revenue picture isn't as bleak as it's made out to be. Las Vegas expects to finish this budget year with a $1.9 million surplus, he said, and he said the Fire Department can take credit for about half of that.

Billings for additional ambulance transports have put an extra $1 million in the general fund, Fletcher said: "We're doing things in our budget that they thought would never happen."

Las Vegas included $6 million in concessions in its recently passed $455 million general fund budget, which pays the city's operating expenses.

Projected revenues for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, are $451.1 million. That's $11 million less than the current fiscal year. While consolidated sales tax revenue is expected to increase slightly, it will be more than offset by a continued slide in property tax revenue.

The $4.1 million deficit will be plugged from a $76.7 million reserve fund.

Finance Director Candace Falder told the City Council on May 17 that continuing to rely on reserves would drain them, leaving the city without adequate reserves and possibly hurting the city's bond rating.

Las Vegas' three other employee unions have agreed to concessions, including pay cuts.

A 2010 study found that Las Vegas firefighter base pay averaged $69,609, which was 7 percent above the market average. The union has about 600 members.

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

 

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