Big gap still exists between city, unions in plans to cut costs

Las Vegas and its employee unions remain far apart on cutting wages, with the city continuing to push for wage cuts while the unions propose giving up some raises and using furloughs to reduce spending next year.

So far, the unions have made offers that would cut $10 million out of the $29.7 million the city is trying to cut from personnel costs to balance the budget.

Meanwhile, the fiscal picture keeps darkening, raising the possibility of even more cuts or having to dig deeper into the city’s reserve funds.

Mayor Oscar Goodman on Wednesday likened it to a patient who is getting worse.

“It’s as though the condition of the city is going from serious to critical,” he said. “The news is not getting better. It keeps getting worse.

“The window is closing quickly. I’m urging the city … as well as all of the city employees who are represented to do whatever possible to get to the 8 percent,” he said.

That’s how much the city has proposed cutting wages.

Since most city employees are represented by bargaining units, employees must approve the cut before it can take effect. Without concessions, the city has predicted 146 layoffs by the end of June.

The unions have responded with proposals that would save some money, but none have endorsed the pay cut.

City firefighters, represented by the International Association of Firefighters, city marshals, represented by the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, and the Las Vegas City Employees Association have all offered to go without a cost-of-living raise. Firefighters and marshals have also agreed to give up longevity pay, and firefighters also proposed doing without an annual step raise for its employees.

The marshals also said they would give up a uniform allowance in the next budget year. The City Employees Association, meanwhile, offered to have its members take 96 furlough hours to save money.

The Las Vegas Peace Officers Association, which represents detention center workers, has not offered any concessions.

Chris Collins, executive director of the Police Protective Association, said the city is asking for too much, and that the ball is in the city’s court now that most bargaining units have put offers on the table.

“It’s not the union’s fault right now that nothing’s being done, in my opinion,” Collins said. “We’re not willing to give back that much. We’ve made what I think is a fair offer.”

The city is “still negotiating in good faith,” said City Manager Betsy Fretwell.

“We have not rejected any offer,” she said.

Goodman mentioned privatization of city services as a way of continuing services, but at a lower cost.

The subject has popped up from time to time as an option to control personnel costs, which officials were worried about even before the recession because of the way wage and benefit packages kept increasing each year.

“We don’t have any choice but to look at that as an alternative,” Goodman said. “It’s not a threat. It’s just a fact.”

A 2008 study by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce found that while Nevada’s state and local governments are lean when it comes to numbers of employees, those employees are among the best paid in the nation.

And their pay goes up regularly — in Las Vegas, raises could be as high as 6 percent to 8 percent, including cost-of-living, merit, step and longevity increases.

“We just can’t sustain the growth that we’ve been sustaining for 15 years,” Councilman Steve Wolfson said.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at or 702-229-6435.

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