Cash-strapped North Las Vegas has offered its union employees an ultimatum: Accept a settlement or face layoffs.
Leaders of three of the city’s four unions don’t like the options at all.
City Manager Jeff Buchanan, who unveiled the offer at two closed employee meetings Wednesday, kept the city’s position simple.
Plan A, he said, would see public safety unions sign on to a $7.7 million settlement drawn up to end a two-year legal battle over $25 million in union employee pay raises first suspended under a city-declared “fiscal emergency” in June 2012.
There would be no layoffs and no service cuts if union heads sign on to the agreement by April 15, the deadline for submitting a tentative budget to state tax officials.
Plan B would see 10 percent to 20 percent across-the-board spending cuts aimed at making up next year’s projected $18 million budget deficit.
It would kick in only if union heads refuse to sign the union settlement drafted by city officials early this month.
Audio of the closed-door meeting obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal hinted at plenty of employee anxiety over the latter possibility.
Buchanan wasn’t all ginned up to present it.
“Everybody in this room knows we can’t use (pay freezes) and we can’t raise taxes,” he told employees. “We don’t have any other options, just reductions.
“We’re going to try our hardest to avoid that. ... Plan A doesn’t get anybody out the door.”
Faced with a choice between plans A and B, two of the four city union heads said they would just prefer Plan C — receivership, the state’s broadly untested alternative to municipal bankruptcy. Under receivership, a team of state-appointed financial experts would have the power to increase property taxes and negotiate future, but not existing, union contracts.
“If these are the tactics the city’s going to use, I think it’s time for the state to step in,” North Las Vegas Firefighters Association President Jeff Hurley said. “You’ve heard me before, I’ve gone to bat for the mayor, but right now I’m disappointed. ... There was just no reason to go this far.”
Hurley, whose department is still dealing with rolling fire station brownouts enacted during the city’s last round of major budget cuts, said Wednesday’s ultimatum blindsided him.
He and Police Supervisors Association President Leonard Cardinale suspect the city is hiding money by funding vacant positions and not accounting for increased employee health care contributions.
Neither will have to renegotiate their members’ contracts until summer 2015 and both say they’re holding out for a better deal.
Police Officers Association President Mike Yarter — who is already renegotiating contracts set to expire in June — said his union’s board unanimously rejected two settlement offers tabled by the city earlier this month.
Yarter doesn’t doubt the city is serious about laying off his members and other city employees.
That doesn’t mean he’s willing to take the blame for it.
“I think they may very well lay people off, but it’s not going to be us who force them to do it,” Yarter said. “I still prefer option A. I’d still like to think a settlement is possible.
“But if they’re looking at layoffs, the one thing they said they wouldn’t do, then why not let the state come in? Why not let somebody else take a crack at it?”
It would be up to the city’s nearly two dozen department heads to decide whether cost savings proposed under Wednesday’s contingency plan would come out of payroll costs, service cuts or both, a city official said.
The city has already shed more than 1,000 positions and trimmed $211 million off its bottom line under four budget reduction plans unveiled since 2009.
The latest proposed belt-tightening comes less than a month before city leaders have agreed to present a cost-reduction plan to the state’s Committee on Local Government Finance.
Officials declined to comment on specifics surrounding that plan, except to say that it will be different from austerity efforts announced this week.
They also declined to comment on the backup plan’s potential effect on the city’s bond rating, which financial analysts have warned could plummet in the face of massive layoffs.
Contact reporter James DeHaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3839. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDeHaven.