North Las Vegas’ struggles follow it, but year ahead looks hopeful


In a little more than a week, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee plans to deliver his first State of the City address, a speech sure to point out each new feather in the city’s cap in 2013.

The Jan. 16 address is also likely to include some of those issues — from ongoing labor disputes to persistent fears over the city’s balance sheet — he and other city leaders couldn’t pin down over the past 12 months.

Their plans to prune those thorny topics could give rise to some of the city’s biggest headlines in 2014, or well beyond.

SHARED SERVICES

City leaders looked to embark on a new experiment in October, announcing a six-month shared services study that could see the city of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas share everything from library to animal control services by the end of May.

Officials on both sides of the agreement said they will dig up efficiency measures and cost savings for each city, citing city court, traffic and economic development services as possible jumping-off points for a longer-term shared services deal.

Eight other departments, including finance, business licensing and redevelopment, also made their way onto officials’ short list of 11 shared services targets.

North Las Vegas already pays a fee to share jail services with its neighbor to the south, though representatives from both cities agreed they won’t be looking to join police or fire department forces anytime soon.

North Las Vegas stands to gain an independent financial analysis and management consulting contract under the terms of the deal but will have to repay Las Vegas for the cost of those services if the cities decide to tie the knot next spring.

If the pair get cold feet, the cost of all services provided by the city of Las Vegas will be capped at $50,000.

Former Clark County Manager Thom Reilly is set to serve as North Las Vegas’ independent consultant under the arrangement, while city government affairs liaison Ryann Juden is to take up a post as one of two overall leads on the project.

“There’s a lot of things we mutually have in common here and for us to utilize each other’s strengths, that’s our goal,” Lee said at a meeting of the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board attended by officials from both cities. “Together, the two of us are going to come together to save some money.”

Former Rep. Shelley Berkley, Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce President Kristin McMillan and Nevada Taxpayers Association President Carole Vilardo have been tapped to serve as appointees to an 11-member citizens oversight panel meant to oversee the study.

Committee members meet from 3 to 5 p.m. every other Thursday, alternating locations between North Las Vegas City Hall and Las Vegas City Hall.

ONGOING LABOR DISPUTES

June saw city leaders renew some $12 million in pay freezes first adopted to help city officials avert a $33 million “fiscal emergency” in summer 2012, doubling down on millions in raises owed to union police, firefighters and Teamsters per collective bargaining agreements signed in 2004.

The unanimous June 5 decision not to revisit those forced concessions came two days after passage of Assembly Bill 503, Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick’s controversial effort to ensure the city’s solvency.

The bill, derided by opponents as a bailout, allows city leaders to dip into a $31 million sewer repair fund to partially restore police, fire and other public safety services while picking up part of the tab on once browned-out libraries and recreation centers.

What North Las Vegas plans to do with the rest of its money remains a major bone of contention for its bargaining groups.

Negotiations to end a yearlong legal dispute between the city and its Police Officers Association hit a snag in August, with City Council members tabling consideration of a $4.1 million settlement between the two parties pending passage of a quarter-percent “More Cops” sales tax increase to bolster public safety funding in Clark County.

The settlement would have erased a major chunk of the city’s ongoing $25 million legal battle with three public safety unions — all for around 40 cents on the dollar.

The original case filed by police union leaders last summer looked to recoup their share of the 2012 pay freezes.

Representatives from the city Firefighters and Police Supervisors Associations filed similar actions, with the latter group doubling its stake in the effort after City Council members voted to renew the controversial concessions.

Firefighters Association President Jeff Hurley blames similar belt-tightening measures for the “brownouts” — planned rescue unit and station closures — seen at more than a quarter of the city’s fire stations in the past year.

“They’re taking $1.7 million out of the general fund for (Craig Ranch Regional Park), and all we would need is $1 million to adequately staff this fire department,” the fire captain said in May. “So it’s just a question of priorities.”

SOLVENCY FEARS

Detroit’s December bankruptcy isn’t yet good or bad news for North Las Vegas, but it is news.

City Finance Director Darren Adair expects it will have an impact on municipal bond prices but won’t create the kind of waves that could threaten to tip the city’s balance sheet.

“In a global economy, we all feel the ripple effects (of Detroit’s bankruptcy) in some way, shape or form,” Adair said last month, “but we’re already in the penalty box, so to speak, because of (Committee on Local Government Finance) oversight, so I don’t think it will have as much of a direct impact on us.

“The likelihood the city would miss its bond obligations isn’t real high because of the backstops the state has in place. We don’t have room to do any direct (municipal bond) refinancing, and we’re sort of insulated by the fact that cities aren’t allowed to go intobankruptcy in this state — they go into receivership.”

The pension fund obligations widely blamed for Detroit’s collapse don’t pose nearly the same threat to Nevada’s fourth-largest city.

North Las Vegas’ books are plagued by a different vice: a near-crippling addiction to state-administered sewer and water funds used to pay for services during the city’s decade-long pre-recession boom.

“We’re focusing on slowly weening ourselves off of enterprise funds,” Adair said. “The problem in Detroit is they fell for several temptations. We only fell for one.”

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at jdehaven@viewnews.com or 702-477-3839.

 

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