Well over 200 people crowded into a room Wednesday night to hear that things are not as terrible in North Las Vegas as they seem.
"Despite the negativity that you hear," Mayor Shari Buck told the crowd, "North Las Vegas is still a great place to come and do business."
Billed as a community meeting to let folks know about how the city is progressing on its five-point strategic plan, the gathering quickly became more than that.
First, the meeting was moved from a small room at Aliante Station into a larger room. Then, that larger room had to be expanded and chairs had to be added. The crowd swelled and lined the walls.
Many of the attendees clutched fliers passed out by the city’s firefighters criticizing city leadership in a decision to temporarily shut down some fire stations to avoid paying overtime.
The firefighters union says shutting stations down – what are called brownouts – is unsafe, while city leaders say that’s not so. They say they cannot afford to pay excessive overtime anymore.
"Right now, no public safety – police officers or firefighters – has been laid off," Buck said.
She said a private ambulance company is responding to minor medical calls in the community, and that fire stations are only closed temporarily if too many firefighters are out sick or otherwise unable to work.
"I want you to know you are safe," she said.
Ron Kline said he lives in North Las Vegas. He’s a firefighter in another city, but he was at the meeting because he’s concerned about his safety at home.
He said the city’s fire department is severely understaffed. Closing stations should never happen.
"How’s that keeping the city safe?" he said. "It’s not safe. They’ve cut so much."
The truth is, the city is in big financial trouble, and Buck acknowledged that. She noted that yet another California city – this time, San Bernardino – filed for bankruptcy this week.
State law does not allow that in Nevada, no matter how bad off a city is.
And North Las Vegas is very bad off. The city faced a deficit of more than $30 million coming into the current fiscal year, which began this month. Its City Council authorized the city manager to suspend portions of contracts with police and fire unions that mandated raises and other benefits to avoid layoffs.
The unions have challenged the action. City officials say that if the unions win, they will be forced to lay off firefighters and police officers in a city already short-staffed in both departments.
The city has already closed its jail, canceled most of its community events, cut hours at the library and recreation centers, and laid off dozens of other employees.
"The city has been going through what you have been going through in your own homes the last three years," Buck said.
Resident Frank Snyder said he was angry, but he didn’t blame current city officials. He blamed those who used to be in charge, the ones he says got the city in the mess it’s in.
"I’m extremely angry about our politics running this city under the rocks," he said. "I think people in high places should be held accountable."
He held one of those fire union fliers in his hand.
"It’s getting very serious," he said. "It’s just leaving people at the mercy of whatever happens."
Contact reporter Richard Lake at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0307.