Most mornings Doris Carter rises early and travels aboard her motorized scooter about two miles to her neighborhood recreation center in North Las Vegas.
There, the 69-year-old enjoys free aerobics, belly dancing and line dancing classes.
"I just do as much as I can," she said. The classes "keep me functioning."
Without them, "I'd have to depend on these things a lot more," she says, pointing to her scooter.
Soon, Carter and others who rely on the two city-run recreation centers for exercise, a social life and an inexpensive daily meal might have to go elsewhere.
After an emotional two-hour Wednesday meeting, the City Council in a split vote approved the layoffs of 21 employees and the closure of recreation centers and pools to help bridge a $4.4 million shortfall in the city's fiscal 2012 budget.
"We have to make a decision," Mayor Shari Buck said. "We have to honor our commitment to the state that we will balance our budget."
The recreation centers could close as soon as Oct. 1 if the city doesn't reach agreements on concessions with its two police unions to make up for the shortfall. Buck said she remains confident those agreements will come soon.
"I would say. 'Stay tuned,' " she said. "I still believe we will have the money to keep these rec centers open and keep these jobs."
It was the third council meeting in a row to draw scores of residents worried about the cuts. Senior citizens and children in their karate uniforms told the council they depend on the centers and can't afford to take classes elsewhere.
"If that place closes, I ain't got no place to go," George Armfield said. "There ain't no other place to go."
The city has undergone several rounds of budget cuts and layoffs in recent years and had little left to cut. The approved layoffs include nine from parks and recreation and three each from administrative services and the city manager's office. Other layoffs will come from the city attorney's office, community development, human resources and public works. Pink slips will go out no later than Aug. 29.
Council members Anita Wood and Robert Eliason voted against the plan.
Eliason noted that he began in 2007 "preaching to this choir" that the city was spending too much on salaries and other expenditures.
But "it went unheard," he said. "By golly I want to be on the record, I haven't supported a budget for a whole heck of a long time. If we had stopped in '07 the spending we were doing, we wouldn't be having this discussion now."
Wood said she could not support "taking the rec centers away from the residents" while "we have two unions here that are still getting raises."
"I refuse to bow" to the unions, she said. The recreation centers "are just too damned important to our residents."
But others said the city had no choice but to approve the cuts. The city is in unprecedented financial trouble and has drawn the attention of state officials who have the power to take over the city's finances if it can't balance its budget. The cuts do that.
North Las Vegas' original budget, approved in May, had cuts to cover a $30.3 million shortfall. The cuts included more than 250 positions across city departments, unless concessions could be reached with employee unions.
The budget was thrown into disarray when the Police Officers Association won a court decision that prohibited the city from proceeding with layoffs of its union members. The city also has yet to finalize a concessions agreement with its Police Supervisors Association.
The city had to look elsewhere for the money it would have saved with public safety cuts.
Residents have criticized the police unions for not offering up more concessions sooner. Police union officials have criticized the city for foolish spending -- including funding a new City Hall and a $300 million wastewater treatment facility -- and failing to support public safety the way it should.
Police officers in the city average $92,400 a year in salary, plus $50,300 a year in benefits. Police supervisors up to the rank of chief average $147,700 a year in salary, plus $72,600 in benefits.
The city employs about 1,300 people, including some 850 public safety workers.
The city's financial troubles have driven a wedge between the Teamsters Local 14 -- the city's largest employee union -- and the public safety unions. Teamsters members say they have given more than their fair share of concessions to help the city while public safety unions were protected. The Teamsters have suffered hundreds of layoffs in recent years.
Larry Griffith, CEO of the Teamsters, yelled at the council about its lack of leadership.
"The unions didn't do any of this," he said. "These were negotiated contracts. They were all ratified, and everybody was happy because the economy was good."
The city will remain in trouble even if the two police unions offer up concessions soon, he said.
"You will be right back here again, coming to me again, because you'll be broke because you don't have a plan," he said.
Cuts approved Wednesday also included eliminating five vacant positions in the Police Department and cutting services and supplies. The council also approved fee increases for sports activities and park rentals.
Some of the senior citizens in attendance said they felt like the city was at war against them.
"We're not the future anymore," Monica James said. "We're the present, and some of us that need the rec centers are soon going to be the past. We have to have a place to go, and the rec centers provide that."
Acting City Manager Maryann Ustick said recommending the cuts was one of the most difficult decisions of her career.
"We have no choice but to proceed," she said. "Unless we balance our budget, we are going to be in a precarious position."
The city now has an ending general fund balance -- essentially its savings account -- of between 4 percent and 5 percent. That's about enough to make one payroll.
Buck railed against what she said is an inequitable state tax distribution formula. North Las Vegas doesn't receive its fair share of consolidated tax revenues, which are distributed by the state, she said.
"We've lost $100 million in C-Tax over the past five years," she said, blaming the distribution formula. "We need your help."
She asked citizens to call their state legislators and demand a fairer formula.
City officials also have asked the Legislature to study the fairness of the state's formula.
The mayor said she appreciated criticism leveled at her and other council members over the spending decisions they've made.
But "we are all part of the solution," she said. "We can blame everybody all day long, but now it's time for us to pull together."
Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.