City of Las Vegas budget balanced; 35 new workers to be hired

Las Vegas leaders on Wednesday unveiled the city’s first balanced budget in nearly a decade, a $524 million preliminary spending plan that includes some $3 million to hire 35 new employees.

That’s on top of 22 new jobs paid for out of enterprise revenue funds that are supported by building permit and inspection fees as well as sewer hookup fees.

Parks and recreation, business licensing, human resources and cultural affairs count among the city departments scheduled to add staffers in fiscal year 2016.

Some of the added positions in the city’s building and safety division are meant to support an influx of medical marijuana grow-house, dispensary and production facility inspections expected as at least a dozen approved pot shops come online over the next two years.

City Manager Betsy Fretwell, who started her job in the heart of the recession in 2008, credited continued cost-saving and “revenue recovery” efforts for the balanced preliminary budget, a rough draft that will see months of tweaking and fine-tuning before it is turned in to state tax officials in June.

She said the city’s spending plan features no transfers to subsidize its general fund, despite a projected $10 million increase in funds to support the Metropolitan Police Department.

Fretwell said 57 positions added to the city’s nonpublic safety departments will barely put a dent in the more than 600 lost through attrition, layoffs and retirement since 2007.

Without those losses, she said, city leaders might not be in a position to bolster their ranks today.

That isn’t to say that they plan to embark on a spending spree.

“We didn’t just throw bodies at our service delivery plan,” Fretwell said ahead of Wednesday’s budget presentation. “We’re going to go slowly, thoughtfully, deliberately through this process.”

Also among good news on the budget front: an expected 5 percent jump in state-administered consolidated tax revenue and overall general fund revenue, as well as a pair of city bond rating upgrades.

Among the bad news: an estimated $1.1 million in red ink tied to the city’s chronically cash-strapped redevelopment agency, which uses public subsidies and tax incentives to fight downtown blight.

The city’s plan to take care of the agency’s projected debt relies on $3.3 million in spending cuts and a $7.5 million jump in revenue planned over the next three fiscal years — dollars that might or might not materialize as property values rebound in the city’s 4,800-acre downtown redevelopment area.

It also calls on the city to restructure multimillion-dollar sewer and infrastructure bond debt payments owed before 2019. Until they are finalized, it’s hard to say how much those refinancing moves could save the city.

The completion of long-planned projects in Symphony Park — including three casinos, some 1,800 residential units and 257,000 square feet of retail space — would provide a major boost to the city’s redevelopment accounts.

None of the park’s contracted developers is required to build in the area before 2017.

Chief Financial Officer Mark Vincent said the city is projected to make around $20 million on well-performing rental car taxes used to help build the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. It’s one of many reasons he’s optimistic that the city’s redevelopment agency will be back in the black as soon as next year.

“It’s entirely conceivable that growth in RDA revenue will be sufficient to get us there,” Vincent said. “(The agency) was a victim of the recession, like we all were.”

City leaders pushed back action on Vincent’s redevelopment agency recovery blueprint until April 15.

Wednesday’s general fund budget outline includes agreed upon 2 percent pay raises for city firefighters and 3 percent pay hikes for hundreds of nonpublic safety employees represented by the Las Vegas City Employees Association. Data on any additional step and merit increases expected for those employees was not immediately available.

Las Vegas is projected to spend 54 percent of its budget on salaries and wages in the upcoming fiscal year. That doesn’t include the nearly $137 million it plans to hand to Metro police, a figure worth more than one-fourth of the city’s estimated expenditures.

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