North Las Vegas won't be able to fix its budget problems until it addresses "out of whack" spending on employee salaries and benefits, a committee of business leaders and community members told the City Council on Wednesday.
"The current salary structure is unsustainable," said Joe Cain, chairman of the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, speaking for the nine-member committee, which was appointed in June by the council. "There's no avoiding it. That's where most of the city's budget goes."
The committee's recommendations, which were advisory only, included freezing spending, more aggressively recruiting new businesses, reorganizing city functions and avoiding new taxes and fees.
It would be "very unfair to saddle the public that's struggling right now with fee or tax increases to sustain salaries that are double, triple what their household incomes are," Cain said.
The city's only option will be to lay off more workers if the city's employee unions don't "come to the table and offer up something," Cain said. "If you address that issue, you address every other issue."
He pointed to public safety salaries, noting that city firefighters' salary and benefits packages average $162,000 and that police officers average $156,000 in salaries and benefits.
"We all value the work firefighters and police do," he said. But "that's a package that in the private sector you'd have to be an executive or business owner to have."
Mayor Shari Buck said that "unless our unions are willing to come along and help us, there's nothing we can do" because union employees are under contract. "As of right now, what they're due is what they're due."
But Councilman William Robinson disagreed.
"There is something we can do: We can lay some folks off if they don't come to the table," he said. "We as a council have to start being leaders and make those tough decisions even though they hurt."
The city is engaged in talks with its three employee unions.
The firefighters union agreed in June to give up cost-of-living and merit raises for a year to save the jobs of 16 firefighters.
But the city's largest employee union, Teamsters Local 14, in June rejected a proposal to forgo a cost-of-living raise, saying the city could not guarantee it would save jobs long-term. The union also has argued the city could cut expenses elsewhere.
North Las Vegas, which has undergone several rounds of budget cuts in the past two years, must still trim $10 million from this year's budget and $42 million from next year's. The city laid off 188 employees in June.
Contact Lynnette Curtis at email@example.com or 702-383-0285.