A parade of judges, police officers and other city employees spoke emotionally before North Las Vegas leaders Tuesday night, warning of dire consequences should city officials approve the drastic cuts in front of them.
"We can't cut any more and expect anything other than horrible results," said North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Stephen Dahl.
But during a packed, three-hour special meeting, City Council members said they had no choice but to adopt a budget that includes slashing 258 jobs across city departments, including those of 40 firefighters and 15 police officers. The city must bridge a $30.3 million shortfall in its 2011-12 budget.
"We're going to have to lay some folks off. It's as simple as that," Councilman William Robinson said. "Fire, police, everybody. Does it hurt? Yes, it hurts."
Layoffs could begin in the next several weeks if the city can't reach agreements with its employee unions on concessions to save jobs.
Mayor Shari Buck, who has repeatedly said she would not support more cuts to public safety, was the only council member to vote against the budget. The cuts should come from elsewhere, she said, adding the city might want to consider outsourcing some of its functions.
"I appreciate what every employee in the city does," she said. "But right now, when our budget is in the way that it is... I have to choose public safety."
The cuts to public safety would result in the closure of one or two fire stations and a loss of jail beds, city officials said.
The cuts also will lead to increased crime in the city, Dahl and others said while urging the council to find other places to cut.
"There's no better time to be a criminal in North Las Vegas," Dahl said. "If you were on the Titanic, would you want a bigger band or would you want more people manning the lifeboats?"
Other positions up for elimination include 56 from public works, 22 from administrative services and 19 from the Municipal Court.
The city's troubles in recent years have caused a rift between its public safety unions and its largest employee union, Teamsters Local 14, which represents about 500 city workers in positions from secretaries to managers. The firefighter, police and Teamsters unions have each agreed to contract concessions, but the Teamsters argue they have given more than their fair share, to the tune of $17.7 million during the last round of talks.
"We did everything we could to help this city," said Steve Harney, vice president of the Teamsters. "There's nothing left for us to give. Any other cuts need to be across the board. Every employee is important to the function of this city."
The Teamsters stand to lose 154 positions in the cuts.
Councilwoman Anita Wood agreed police and firefighters need to give more.
"The question becomes if our public safety is going to step up to the plate and be willing to sacrifice, too, and take the pay cuts that need to be taken," she said. "We have got to stop being individual unions and start working together."
Mike Yarter, president of the Police Officers Association, pointed to the union's previous concessions, the most recent of which were valued at $3.65 million.
"Your police officers have not turned their backs on their fellow officers nor on the city of North Las Vegas," he said. "Show us ... that you are coming up with ideas other than laying off a 23-year-old police officer with two kids at home and a pregnant wife."
The firefighters union recently agreed to about $4 million in concessions.
Councilman Richard Cherchio said city residents are concerned with their quality of life, including "their parks, their roads, their streetlights, where can their kids go and, of course, public safety is right in their top" priorities.
"I am not in favor of sacrificing one union over another," he said. "Let's not let the politics of all of this come between us. Politics can't resolve economic problems. Only we can."
North Las Vegas has seen plummeting property tax and other revenues during the recession. The city has gone through several rounds of budget cuts since late 2008 and has eliminated or frozen nearly 900 positions.
In June, 188 workers were laid off. Another 44, all North Las Vegas Detention Center workers, were let go in October after the detention center lost about a third of its inmates, and millions in income, to a new lockup for federal inmates in Pahrump.
The city currently employs about 1,600 people.
The council approved a 2011-12 operating budget of $125 million, compared to $149.5 million in 2010-11. The city's public safety spending accounts for well over half of its budget.
Its total 2011-12 budget is $504.9 million, with $136.5 million allocated for capital projects. In 2010-11 the approved overall budget was $736.8 million; in 2009-10 it was $816.9 million.
Fiscal year 2012 begins July 1, 2011, and runs through June 30, 2012.
Contact Lynnette Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0285.