Some unexpected good news came during the final minutes of a painful four-hour-plus meeting as North Las Vegas officials agonized over potentially having to cut 273 jobs.
Officials of the financially strapped city had determined that 39 of those cuts would come from the police department, but realized after a good deal of confusion that was a mistake. The department already has enough vacant positions resulting from a hiring freeze, attrition, retirements and employee buyouts for it to meet the city's financial savings goals. No additional police jobs would be lost.
Police had worried and protested for days over the possible layoffs. The miscalculation that came to light late Thursday led to relief and some anger.
"They had a lot of officers worried about what was going to happen," said Terrence McAllister, president of the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association.
Mayor Shari Buck's passionate arguments earlier in the meeting against cuts to the police department became moot.
The city "put a lot of people through blood, sweat and tears," Buck said. "How did the misunderstanding happen that we needed to cut 39 positions?"
But it remained unclear how the error occurred.
"We have been working with police for the last two or three weeks trying to resolve these numbers," Acting City Manager Maryann Ustick said. "I don't know why we weren't able to reconcile our numbers until now. I apologize for that."
"It's a great mistake, but it makes us look like hell," Councilman Robert Eliason said.
The other 234 potential job cuts couldn't be resolved so easily. The council painstakingly went through each city department, detailing how many jobs in each may be eliminated.
Councilman Eliason repeatedly asked whether the specific cuts represented "actual human beings" as opposed to vacant positions. In most cases, they did. Some city workers sitting in the audience were stunned when they heard their jobs could be on the chopping block as soon as March.
The biggest cuts would come from the public works department (78 positions) and parks and recreation (42). But some smaller departments would lose big. Planning and zoning could lose eight of its 21 positions -- a 38 percent cut.
City officials won't decide which specific "position titles" inside each department could be eliminated until March, Ustick said.
The city, which is dealing with plummeting tax revenues, has undergone five rounds of budget cuts totaling $51 million since December 2008. It has already eliminated or frozen dozens of positions, trimmed departmental budgets, reduced overtime and offered voluntary employee buyouts and furlough days. But the city still must trim an additional $33.4 million to make it through fiscal year 2011.
The city's three employee unions last year agreed to contract concessions that included cost-of-living deferrals. Savings from those concessions were $8.7 million.
The city has resumed talks with the unions, hoping for further concessions.
North Las Vegas will host a series of town hall meetings in coming weeks focused on the city's financial status. The first, to be hosted by Councilman William Robinson, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Nevada Partners Culinary Academy, 710 W. Lake Mead Blvd.
Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0285.