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Las Vegas approves $482 million general fund budget with deficit predicted for 2014

A little time didn’t make much difference for the Las Vegas 2014 budget: City Hall still predicts a $10 million general fund deficit.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved next year’s spending plan with small adjustments made since council members got a first look at the document in April. That included adding 1.5 city-funded positions and slightly increasing the amount of projected consolidated tax revenue, the main source of cash for the general fund. That pot of money pays for most of the local government services residents see, including police, parks and roads.

But the big picture stays the same. With proposed general fund spending at $482 million and revenue at $472 million, the city will dip into reserves to balance the general fund, which is just a portion of the nearly $1.2 billion in budgets in city government.

Using reserves, the city’s savings account, keeps the city from cutting services, City Manager Betsy Fretwell said. Las Vegas’ economy is improving modestly, she said, after seeing property values — and related tax revenue — fall sharply after 2008.

“Since I became city manager I’ve been talking to you about recessions and slow recoveries,” Fretwell said to council members. “We’ve been able to perform well against the budget that you authorized last year. Right now it looks really positive that we will finish the year ever so slightly in the black.”

In the 2014 budget, the city will fund a community development executive director, a position that would administer federal grants aimed at revitalizing deteriorating neighborhoods, and a part-time victim witness advocate in the city attorney’s office.

Wages and benefits make up the biggest spending category in the general fund. That’s projected to be $260.6 million in 2014, up from an estimated $247 million this year. The city is in negotiations with three employee unions that represent law enforcement and firefighters, spokesman Jace Radke said. Cost-of-living increases are not part of the conversation. Employees whose contracts already included certain built-in raises will get those.

Contracts for most other city employees run out in July, Radke said, and negotiations with those groups are on the way.

City Hall plans to pay the Metropolitan Police Department about $120 million of Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s $502 million budget. Las Vegas proposed giving about $97 million for fire and rescue workers’ pay and benefits and almost $37 million for corrections officers in an earlier version of the budget.

Projections for consolidated tax revenue, which goes into the general fund, went up about $1 million to $239.5 million between April and Tuesday. Consolidated tax revenue comes mostly from sales tax.

The council, in its role as the board of the Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency, also unanimously approved that entity’s 2014 budget. Its $19.5 million budget is expected to see a $1.4 million shortfall that will be covered by reserves.

Councilman Bob Beers reiterated his concerns about the agency’s ability to cover its $12.9 million debt service next year and hopes that the Legislature will approve a bill that would add 15 more years to the amount of time it has to pay. That also could reduce annual payments by $3 million.

State law requires Las Vegas to approve its budget by June 1. The fiscal year runs from July to June.

Contact reporter Adam Kealoha Causey at acausey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0401.

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