Las Vegas officials should be ready to implement layoffs in case the city and employee unions can’t agree on how to slow the growth in personnel costs, City Council members said today.
Mayor Oscar Goodman said department heads should have a plan ready to cut 5 percent of their staffs if other efforts to make up a projected $150 million shortfall in the next five years aren’t enough. He did not specify if the cuts would be in the next fiscal year or in the current one.
The economic slowdown has hit public revenues in a big way. The impact in Las Vegas is being felt now in the consolidated sales tax, which provides about half of the city’s operating budget, and collections have been dropping for more than a year.
City officials are trying to get the four unions that represent most city employees to rework their contracts so that salary and benefit costs don’t grow as much as they’re projected to now. The unions have hired an accountant to review the city’s finances. The firefighters union contract is up for new negotiations next month, while the others have at least a year left.
Other cost cutting measures, including holding positions vacant and consolidating some departments and functions, have already been implemented. But concessions from labor are necessary, council members and staff said.
"The old mindset … is the biggest change in the culture that we have to get to," said Councilman Larry Brown. "The future public service agency and public service employee will be different than it was 30 years ago."
He and other council members referred to layoffs as a "last resort."
Goodman scheduled a Jan. 7 update, and said he had wanted the unions to be ready to agree to negotiations today.
That’s not providing enough time, countered Tommy Ricketts, who is president of the largest city union, the Las Vegas City Employees Association.
The review won’t be done until the end of the month, and members will need time to assess the findings, he said.
"My membership deserves the verification of the city’s numbers," he said. "Now, by all means, if we have to do something, we’ll do it. We’ll do what we have to do in the long run to protect our jobs."
Goodman said "time is of the essence."
"I do expect to have answers then," he said. "If we don’t have answers — and this isn’t a threat — we have to be prepared as to what we’re going to do as a city."
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