Mayor seeks help from private sector to solve budget crisis

Las Vegas is turning to the private sector for advice on dealing with the economic downturn, Mayor Oscar Goodman said Thursday.

The City Council will hear presentations at its May 5 meeting from invited members of the business world on dealing with falling revenue, he said, as a "prelude" to a May 18 hearing to approve the city's 2011 budget.

That budget contains a shortfall because tax revenues, based mostly on sales and property taxes, have declined. City leaders want to make up part of the deficit by eliminating all employee raises and reducing salaries by 8 percent, which the city's four employee unions have not yet agreed to do.

Without the cuts, 146 layoffs are expected in June.

"I just want the city employees to know this is serious business," Goodman said. "A lot of people are acting like it's not real and we're not going to do anything about it."

In the private sector, he said, employers have cut wages and benefits, and "you could leave or you could stay under the new circumstances," Goodman said.

Nevada state and local government employees had the sixth-highest average salary in the nation in 2008, according to a study by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. Nevada also had the leanest government work force in the country.

Local government officials have been worried about increasing personnel costs for some time. Public employees have attractive benefit packages and labor contracts that call for annual wage increases in the 6 percent to 8 percent range, including cost-of-living, merit, step and longevity increases.

Two of the city's bargaining units -- the group representing city marshals and the Las Vegas City Employees Association, which represents general workers -- have offered to give up some of the increases. The City Employees Association also proposed having each employee take 96 furlough hours during the next fiscal year. Firefighters have offered what they're calling a "zero-cost" budget that would keep funding even from the current year.

The city is looking for $29.7 million in cuts. The offers made by the unions are about $19 million short of that goal.

Employees know that city management is serious, said Don King, president of the City Employees Association, which is the largest of the bargaining units.

"It's very real," he said. "I don't know how anyone would not believe that the city would not do certain things."

The city already has had smaller layoffs, King noted.

"The worst-case scenario is they lay people off. I think they are going to go through with that worst-case scenario."

Contact reporter Alan Choate at or 702-229-6435.