Las Vegas firefighters have ratified a contract that would ax a cost-of-living raise in the current budget year in exchange for the city contributing more to employees' retirement and medical benefits.
"There is an increase in the compensation," City Manager Betsy Fretwell said Wednesday, adding that it's not as much of one as there would be with a cost-of-living raise.
Las Vegas, like other governments, has seen its revenues plummet as the economy has worsened, and has been looking at ways to slash expenses.
The firefighters are the last of the city's four bargaining units to reach a deal with the city.
But in the time since those negotiations took place, the revenue picture has darkened, and city officials have warned that more cuts might be necessary.
Voting members of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1285 gave the new contract a thumbs-up by a 97 percent margin in voting Monday and Tuesday, said union head Dean Fletcher, calling the support "pretty good."
"We're very happy. I think everybody knows the times we're in."
The contract is expected to go before the Las Vegas City Council for approval at its Aug. 5 meeting.
Councilman Steve Ross said he hadn't seen the details but added, "I'm just thrilled to death that they've reached an agreement."
"I've always made public safety my No. 1 priority. You're not going to find any of my colleagues that are any different. I would not support any reduction of services."
The two-year agreement says firefighters will not get a cost-of-living increase this year, which in the past has amounted to around a 3.5 percent increase.
That saves the city $1.5 million, Fretwell said.
The agreement also says the city will handle an increase in the public retirement contribution for employees and will increase the contribution to the firefighters' medical trust fund, which pays health care costs.
The increases total $1.75 million.
Fretwell said it's still a savings to the city because there isn't a cost-of-living increase this year. That part of the contract can be renegotiated in 2011.
The city also has slowed the growth rate of firefighter personnel costs by 2 percentage points, which is greater than the city's original goal, she said.
"If we're spending $1.7 (million), and we're saving $1.5 (million), then normally we'd be spending about $3.2 (million)" based on past contracts that included a cost-of-living hike, Fretwell said. "We're not going to spend $3.2 (million)."
The Las Vegas City Employees Association, the largest of the city's unions, took a one-point reduction in the annual cost-of-living raise while extending its contract to 2014.
The city's detention center workers also agreed to the percentage point cut in the COLA, and the city marshals took a $662.50 per employee reduction in the amount the city paid for cleaning uniforms and maintaining equipment.
The city employees association changes were forecast to save the city $22.5 million compared with keeping the existing contract in place. The other reductions were projected to save about $900,000 over the next two years.
The reductions did not affect annual step raises for city employees, meaning many workers are still eligible for annual raises of 4 percent to 6 percent.
In May, Fretwell told the council that further cuts and concessions probably would be necessary to keep the city's general fund whole. On Wednesday, she said the budget picture remains unclear.
"The revenue numbers have just completely changed" because of the continuing bad economy, Fretwell said. "We were trying to address a $150 million shortfall over five years back in October of '08. By the time we brought the budget forward in May, we were anticipating a $230 million shortfall.
"Are we all the way there? No. Do we have more work to do? Absolutely," Fretwell said.
The Clark County Commission is also looking at firefighter pay. The county firefighters union has proposed a contract change -- which the union chief has described as a concession -- that would reduce their cost-of-living raise to 2 percent from 3 percent.
In return, firefighters would get two additional paid leave days a year and a two-year contract extension.
The county firefighters also would forgo new security features at stations that union leaders say would free $4 million for other Fire Department projects.
The proposal, which has been criticized by some officials as not saving the county any money, is scheduled be discussed in a closed session at the commission meeting Tuesday.
Contact reporter Alan Choate at email@example.com or 702-229-6435.