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Cost to help North Las Vegas questioned

Las Vegas firefighters are making more trips into North Las Vegas as the latter community grapples with a budget crisis that’s making it harder to provide city services.

But the increase in so-called "automatic aid" trips to North Las Vegas is not as costly to Las Vegas taxpayers as firefighter union officials have implied, according to city officials.

The notion that Las Vegas taxpayers are subsidizing fire protection for their neighbors to the north came up Monday in a public statement by Las Vegas Firefighters Local 1285, which claimed the disparity is "an unfair and unsafe practice for the citizens of Las Vegas."

According to the union, automatic aid responses from Las Vegas to North Las Vegas increased 107 percent from July 1 to July 9. The union reported if the week-old trend continued for a year it would mean more than 5,200 trips "Las Vegas taxpayers will pay for in North Las Vegas."

International Association of Fire Fighters’ Local 1285 President Dean Fletcher said he raised the issue because city officials haven’t discussed it publicly even though, he said, it means increased response times in emergencies.

"They are saving a bunch of money by shutting down units and, when they need help, we are automatically going in there," Fletcher said.

Officials in both cities, however, said there’s not enough evidence to suggest North Las Vegas’ financial problems are draining Las Vegas taxpayers.

"You cant really develop a huge trend analysis over two weeks," said North Las Vegas City Manager Timothy Hacker.

Las Vegas Fire Chief Mike Myers in a written statement acknowledged an increase but didn’t verify the union’s claims that the city was sacrificing safety or unduly burdening taxpayers.

"We are experiencing an increase in call volume, specifically on medically related incidents, with the overall increase in the past 14 days averaging one to two additional calls per unit, per day," Myers said.

Myers also said that this week Las Vegas was seeing more North Las Vegas emergency medical units in service, "which we expect will reduce the impact to the city of Las Vegas."

Las Vegas city spokesman David Riggleman said on a typical day Las Vegas makes about six or seven calls into North Las Vegas, but in the past two weeks that has increased to about 16 or 17.

Discussion about the cities’ aid agreement comes as each is locked in its own dispute with union firefighters.

In North Las Vegas, firefighters are upset the City Council voted in June to declare a fiscal emergency that city officials say allows them to force firefighters to continue accepting pay and benefit concessions that had been set to expire.

The decision was in addition to other cuts North Las Vegas enacted to close a $30 million budget shortfall earlier this year.

In Las Vegas, city management and union firefighters are at impasse in negotiations for a new, two-year labor contract, with city officials saying the firefighters’ latest offer would cost about $12.3 million more than they are willing to spend.

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