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City workers turn out for town hall gathering

The first of a dozen town hall meetings to discuss the city of Las Vegas’ budget woes was attended mostly by those with a direct stake in the budget — city employees whose jobs could be cut if ways aren’t found to make ends meet.

About 200 people crowded into the Summerlin Library’s theater Monday night. When Mayor Oscar Goodman asked how many attendees were city employees, almost everyone raised their hands.

The tone was cordial as questions submitted by the audience were read and then answered by Goodman, City Councilman Steve Wolfson, City Manager Betsy Fretwell and department heads.

City officials are hoping people will come to the meetings with suggestions for saving money and input about which city services are essential or nonessential.

No new ground was broken Monday night. The questions were either about projects already under contract and therefore not available to cut, or on subjects that already have been covered thoroughly, such as whether non-union city employees would absorb the same cuts that are being negotiated with the unions (yes) or if it really is cheaper to pay firefighters overtime rather than hire additional ones (yes, for now, although the math changes as firefighters move up in pay grades).

"Our revenues are down," Wolfson said. "There are difficult decisions to make.

"Do we cut services? Which ones? How much? Do we lay off employees? Which ones? How many?"

"Everything’s important," Goodman said. "That’s why we’re trying so hard … but we’re at that point that unless we balance the budget and find a way to work out the taxes, something’s gotta give."

Fretwell said the city’s budget picture, which has been steadily worsening since the economic downturn began, has once again gotten worse.

Department heads have prepared plans to cut their budgets by 12 percent, she said. Now, it looks more realistic to plan for 15 percent budget cuts.

"We’ve asked for deeper cuts because 12 percent simply is not enough," Fretwell said.

That’s one track for dealing with the general fund budget, which covers city operations.

Another is asking the city’s collective bargaining units to accept 8 percent pay reductions in each of the next two budget years. The city’s non-union employees already have agreed to the cut, provided the unions step forward.

Those talks are pending. Union representatives have said they want to check the city’s books and are wary that layoffs could happen even if the concessions are given.

Fretwell said she will present recommendations for the next budget year, which starts July 1, in March.

The revenue problems are mostly in the consolidated sales tax and property tax, which make up about 75 percent of general fund revenue. Sales tax revenue has plummeted in the recession, and property tax revenue could drop 15 percent to 20 percent next year, said Mark Vincent, the city’s chief financial officer.

Fretwell said the city is looking at making up a $70 million shortfall.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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