Salaries for some Las Vegas city employees are as much as 50 percent to 75 percent higher than similar jobs elsewhere, according to reports commissioned by the city that found one position paid nearly twice as much as comparable jobs.
Some of those findings, however, are dismissed by critics who say the city cherry-picked data to reach a predetermined conclusion.
The broad analysis of city personnel costs -- the first since the mid-1990s -- was undertaken last year to see whether salaries and benefits for Las Vegas, which has struggled with budget shortfalls and layoffs since the economic downturn started, were comparable with the costs of other local governments.
The studies became part of negotiations with city employee unions, three of which have granted concessions in the past year.
They document what city leaders and local analysts have said for a long time: Las Vegas' compensation structure exploded during the boom years to the point that it would imperil the city's financial future if left unaddressed.
The survey found, for example, that 51 out of 60 "benchmark" positions represented by the Las Vegas City Employees Association were more than 5 percent above average, and several were 30 percent, 40 percent or 50 percent higher.
Average pay for an accounting technician job at Las Vegas City Hall, for example, was $65,313, well above the overall average of $42,684.
Average salaries for deputy city marshal ($76,190) and corrections officer ($67,680) positions were 74 percent and 78 percent more than the study's averages, respectively. And the $96,688 average for a deputy city marshal sergeant's average salary was nearly double the market average.
That's because "the report was results driven," argued Chris Collins, executive director of the Police Protective Association, which represents city marshals.
"The jobs they compared them to have nothing to do with a city marshal's job. When the study came out, it didn't surprise me. I don't put any weight on it."
City spokesman David Riggleman said officials relied on the expertise of the Segal Group, the consultants who prepared the report, and that disagreements over what jobs and cities to use for comparison are expected.
"That was a point both sides could probably argue to infinity," Riggleman said. "The Segal Group felt like the comparison they made was fair, because you're drawing on markets in the region. You're talking about California. You're talking about Arizona."
In addition to Southern Nevada governments, the studies drew data from Tucson, San Francisco, Salt Lake County in Utah, the state of Arizona, and California cities, among others.
The Segal Group, based in New York City, is a 70-year-old company specializing in human resources consulting.
The head of the Las Vegas City Employees Association wasn't quite as dismissive of the study of his employees, but was still critical.
"We had issues with the study from Day One," said Don King. "We did not agree with certain cities that were used ... because we do not believe that some of them are representative of the job market that we pull most people out of. We would not agree to the implementation of the whole study."
The City Employees Association, whose 1,400 members are about half of all city employees, made some concessions recently that included a compromise salary schedule for new employees.
The new schedule is for employees hired after Jan. 1. Current employees will not get pay cuts if they are making above-market wages now, but their pay will be frozen until the market catches up with the salary.
"Most of those people will not be able to get a cost-of-living or merit increase for the rest of their careers," said Dan Tarwater, director of the city's human resources department. "They're valued at the highest rate, and they're never going to get any increases."
The agreement also puts most employees on a four-day work week and cancels cost-of-living, longevity and step increases for the next two fiscal years.
It is expected to save $11 million a year in each of those annual budgets.
"Folks like me who only have a few more years to go ... I will probably never see another pay raise from the city of Las Vegas," said King, who has been with the city for 33 years and expects to retire in the next few years. "That's still a better deal than watching a lot of employees go out the door."
The salaries in the new schedule vary by position, but at most the reduction for a new employee would be 12.5 percent.
"You can't get too crazy with the reduction, but you have to get it in line with what we can afford now," Riggleman said. "It's a whole different world out there."
The study was completed before concessions were reached with the City Employees Union, city marshals and city firefighters, who are represented by International Association of Firefighters Local 1285.
City marshals agreed to a 4 percent pay cut and gave up all raises as well as a uniform allowance.
Firefighters gave up a cost-of-living raise and uniform allowances, accepted a reduced step raise, lowered pay for a starting firefighter, and agreed to contribute more toward health insurance costs.
The survey found that firefighter base pay was not very far out of line, but did not include the large amounts of overtime firefighters work, which drives up salary costs.
The Las Vegas Peace Officers Association, which represents detention center workers, is still in negotiations with the city.
Contact reporter Alan Choate at email@example.com or 702-229-6435.