Henderson’s managers were given new “professional allowances” in April and May while the city was discussing fee increases and service cuts with the community.
City Manager Jacob Snow approved the allowance program that gave 66 top-level employees payments ranging from $250 to $550, and totaled $43,950 during the two months. Snow has since stopped the program, but no employees have been asked to return the money.
Dan Hyde, chairman of the Henderson Senior Citizens Advisory Commission, said the allowances send the wrong message during talks of cuts and fee increases.
“We think it’s inappropriate at this time,” Hyde said. “We’re looking at austerity, cuts and everything else. I don’t care how token the amount may seem to people, that 250 bucks for one person could have fed how many seniors?”
According to Henderson spokesman Bud Cranor, the payments were “in lieu of any pay increases, car allowances, or other pay that had been previously reduced or eliminated.”
Cranor also said that “many city employees” offered to forgo the allowances in light of the budget shortfall.
The program was authorized while city management was hosting 21 sessions of Bridging the Budget Gap presentations for residents in April pitching service cuts and fee increases for parks and recreation operations to help reduce city deficits.
The City Council on Tuesday approved $2.02 million in fee increases and service cuts to help bridge projected shortfalls of $5 million in the operating budget and $17 million annually for infrastructure.
The fee increases included raising swimming pool admission fees by $1, eliminating bread pickup for $17,000, cutting hours at recreation centers and the Heritage Park Senior Facility by an average of 10 hours per week, and eliminating the senior food program at the facility on Saturdays.
Mayor Andy Hafen said the idea of the allowances was discussed by Snow with council members earlier this year as a way of rewarding nonunion management who had not seen any increases and had lost other benefits during the past few years.
He said the discussions came as city officials believed that a $2 million operations shortfall could be recovered. However, that grew to a nearly $5 million projected shortfall, halting the allowances.
“This was almost a ‘thank you’ for giving up so much and it did seem like a nominal amount,” said Hafen of the employees who received them. “But now that we see (the shortfall) is even worse, and of course it’s not a very good message to send out there, I very happy that we have suspended them.”
Victor Joecks, a researcher and executive vice president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank based in Las Vegas that tracks public employee pay, said the decision to give the allowances “is stunning.”
“I don’t know how a city resident looks at this and feels anything other than outrage,” said Joecks, who has criticized the city’s pay structure before the City Council and at the community budget meetings. “For them to have a series of budget meetings where they’re going around and bemoaning how they have no money, and at the same time they were getting professional allowance bonus is disingenuous.”
Councilman Sam Bateman said he advised against the move. He was also unaware that the program had moved ahead.
“I told them I didn’t think this was a good idea and I wasn’t supportive of it,” Bateman said. “They made the decision they made that probably wasn’t the right decision. They made the right decision to end it.”
Snow was touting to the City Council on Tuesday the financial sacrifice of the city’s management to help trim the budget.
“For our executive staff, more than 50 management employees have absorbed between 6 and 11 percent actual cuts in their take-home pay since 2009,” Snow told the council. The statement was referring to the elimination of car allowances, matching contributions to a government retirement plan similar to a 401(k), certain holiday pay and cost-of-living increases.
Cranor said the city had “anticipated that through various cuts and cost savings it could eliminate its $2 million operating deficit” and give some back to non-union employees.
“We were emerging from a two-year freeze on merit increases, and it was expected that we would be back in the black and could begin looking at ways to reinstate some of the benefits and/or compensation previously taken from employees,” Cranor said.
However, city staff was telling residents at the budget outreach meetings in April, the first month of the new allowance, that the anticipated operating deficit had grown from $2 million to $5 million.
Councilman John Marz said he was informed of the allowances last week and Snow has the authority to give these types of discretionary increases to employees.
“A lot of our (nonunion) employees have gone a long time without any increase at all,” Marz said. “But I think Jacob did the right thing by taking those incentives away until our economy gets better.”
Councilwoman Debra March said the payments were identified as paying non-union workers who had not received any additional compensation for a few years.
“We recognized we needed to do something about that,” March said. “It’s just something we can’t afford to do right now.”
While the 2-month-old personal allowance program has been stopped, Snow, City Attorney Josh Reid and City Clerk Sabrina Mercadante continue to receive monthly professional allowances as part of their City Council-approved employment agreements renewed in November.
According to their four-year contracts, Snow receives $750 monthly, Reid $650 monthly and Mercadante $550 per month.
Contact Arnold M. Knightly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3882. Find him on Twitter: @KnightlyGrind