State officials cast a critical eye on North Las Vegas' beleaguered balance sheet Thursday and reminded city leaders to budget wisely and keep enough cash on hand stay current with the bills.
That is the upshot from a jam-packed meeting of the state Department of Taxation's Committee on Local Government Finance, an oversight panel that aims to prevent struggling local governments from falling into financial emergencies.
The meeting was a chance for North Las Vegas officials to assure the state they are prepared to make tough decisions to present a balanced budget for fiscal year 2013, an effort that has led to clashes with the city's police and firefighter unions and warnings of layoffs for public safety workers.
"You are running pretty close on that cash, aren't you, on a daily basis, so to speak, as you proceed down through time," Chairman Marvin Leavitt said to City Manager Timothy Hacker and Finance Director Al Zochowski.
"I would not argue with that statement," Zochowski said.
Hacker then leaned in and told the committee that despite the waxing and waning of liquid cash, the city remains current on its expenses and expects to end the year with more than $2 million on hand, which he said was about double the amount it had the previous year.
According to documents presented by the city, department heads requested general fund spending of about $138 million in 2013, a number that includes the return of some salary and benefit increases for unionized workers.
Hacker's general fund budget would spend just $123 million, which includes cost savings of about $20 million in a proposed "sustainability plan" that could come from salary and benefit concessions if union leaders agree, or through layoffs.
A separate public safety budget includes department spending requests of $41 million and Hacker's proposal to spend about $30 million, with an $11 million sustainability plan he said could come through further labor concessions or layoffs.
Hacker said the sustainability plan portions of the budget are necessary because the recession has battered the city's balance sheets. In recent years, assessed property values have plummeted 65 percent, which means property taxes that make up more than 30 percent of the general fund declined as well.
"We don't really enjoy the fact that is how the numbers work out," Hacker said. "There is not a department head in the world that wouldn't want more people, more resources."
But the city's unions, particularly police and firefighters, are pushing back and accusing management of fudging numbers and trying to paper over reckless spending decisions with money that should be spent on public safety.
They're resisting calls to continue pay and benefit concessions for two more years without more assurances from the city. Police officers want assurances that layoffs will be minimized, and firefighters want their department consolidated with another local government.
"If the city can't put forward something where it prevents laying off people, that is a major hurdle," said Mike Yarter, president of the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association.
In a news release after the state meeting, Jeff Hurley, president of North Las Vegas Firefighters Local 1607, blasted Hacker for "the disastrous way he handles his personal financial affairs," citing a dispute between Hacker and his landlord.
The news release also noted Hacker's pay exceeds $180,000 annually plus benefits, a counter to statements from Hacker that regularly reference "generous wage and benefit packages" that average $136,000 for police and $139,000 for firefighters, figures that include retirement payments.
The posturing from both sides makes it difficult to assess what would happen should Hacker's sustainability plans go into effect.
Police say the proposals, which may include consolidating some jail operations with the Metropolitan Police Department, could result in around 100 layoffs. Fire Department layoffs could approach 60 firefighters, according to union officials.
The unions say either of those scenarios would threaten public safety.
But both sides also acknowledge the budget proposals include funding for dozens of jobs that remain unfilled, which means cutbacks could come from money for vacant positions.
On Monday, a news release from Hacker said the city is preparing for "massive" layoffs, but at the meeting on Thursday he told the committee the city could "surgically find some service areas where we can achieve some reduction.
On Tuesday, Hacker is scheduled to present the tentative budget plan to the City Council for approval. The agenda also includes an item for the council to consider possible layoffs.
Despite assurances of budget stability from city officials, the state committee told city officials to start making periodic cash flow reports. It also told city officials that when they present their 2013 budget to the state, it should include a statement about real-world actions they're taking to balance the finances on paper.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ reviewjournal.com.