Deal with police union may save North Las Vegas rec centers

North Las Vegas and the police officers union have reached a tentative concessions agreement that, if approved by the City Council, will save the cash-strapped city’s recreation centers, Mayor Shari Buck said Tuesday.

The agreement, which includes suspending a January cost-of-living raise for the 360-member Police Officers Association, will save the city about
$2 million through June .

City officials said they needed
$1.5 million to keep the centers open. The council in August approved the layoffs of 21 employees and the October closure of recreation centers and pools to help bridge a $4.4 million shortfall in the city’s fiscal 2012 budget.

Scores of senior citizens and others protested the closures at recent council meetings, saying they relied on the two city-run recreation centers for exercise and social activities.

All along, Buck remained confident the city would come to agreements with its two police unions that would save the centers.

“While I don’t know how the council is going to vote, I’m hopeful the agreement will be approved and we can move forward,” she said Tuesday.

The council is scheduled to vote today on the agreement during a special meeting.

The council last week approved an agreement on contract concessions with the 57-member Police Supervisors Union that will save the city about $3.9 million over the next four years. Net savings from the agreement during fiscal 2012 will be $378,000, city officials said.

The agreement with the larger police union includes suspending a 1.13 percent cost-of-living raise scheduled for January. But that raise will be added to a separate cost-of-living raise scheduled for July.

It also includes suspending a December uniform allowance until July.

Buck acknowledged the agreement could be seen as simply kicking the problem down the road.

“We’ll have to renegotiate again in July,” she said.

Councilwoman Anita Wood said she was struggling over whether to support the agreement.

“It’s really a bad deal, and yet you hate to not take the little bit they’re offering,” she said. “It will ensure the rec centers will stay open through June 30, but will we be able to keep them open past then?”

The agreement also isn’t fair to the city’s other unions that have offered up more concessions in recent years, she said.

“It’s creating a very negative dynamic here in the workplace,” she said.

Buck said she was happy the police union was willing to give concessions because “they really did not have to come to the table at all.”

North Las Vegas’ original budget, approved in May, had cuts to cover a $30.3 million shortfall. The cuts included more than 250 positions across city departments, unless concessions could be reached with employee unions.

The budget was thrown into disarray when the Police Officers Association won a court decision that prohibited the city from proceeding with layoffs of its union members. The city had to look elsewhere for the money it would have saved with public safety cuts.

Residents have criticized the police unions for not offering up more concessions sooner. Police union officials have criticized the city for foolish spending — including funding for a new City Hall and a $300 million wastewater treatment facility — and for failing to support public safety the way it should.

In exchange for concessions from the police officers union, the city agreed in part to not lay off police union members through July 5 .

Mike Yarter, president of the union, did not return a call or email seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

The city has undergone several rounds of budget cuts in recent years, trimming about $60 million from its general fund budget and cutting or freezing more than 800 positions. It has drawn the attention of state officials who have the power to take over the city’s finances if it can’t balance its budget.

Police officers in the city average $92,400 a year in salary, plus $50,300 in benefits. Police supervisors up to the rank of chief average $147,700 a year in salary, plus $72,600 in benefits.

The city employs about 1,300 people, including around 850 public safety workers.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

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