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Las Vegas reconsiders parks and recreation fee increases

The only people who objected to Las Vegas’ $499 million budget Tuesday were users of the city’s sports fields objecting to fee increases expected to raise $4.5 million when fully implemented.

The City Council, which earlier urged staff to try to recoup costs, decided to reconsider the fee increases after hearing from people who said they would drive tournaments out of town and hurt youth sports.

City Manager Betsy Fretwell was asked to meet with the people concerned, although that doesn’t mean the fee increase proposal is dead.

Terry Hennessy, CEO of Senior Softball-USA, presented a report showing the economic impact of his group between 2001 and 2014 has been $115 million. “You will lose tournaments and leagues, and the city will lose revenue,” he said.

Another speaker from Senior Softball said the city charges the highest fees and provides the least service in the valley.

Parks and leisure are getting the largest portion of new funding for capital improvements — more than $27 million in new money.

City Councilman Bob Coffin told the audience that the Parks and Recreation Department is undergoing a shakeup. He said Fretwell should be applauded for her actions in the wake of a recent audit of parks and recreation and neighborhood services which revealed a parks employee was paid more than $102,000 for overtime and callback time.

The employee, who the Review-Journal has learned is Joseph Wichert, is still employed by the city because while he was the beneficiary, the blame for mismanagement was placed on supervisors who signed off on the excessive overtime. Messages left for Wichert were not returned.

The Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank based in Las Vegas, showed that in 2011, his base pay was $60,465 and his overtime was $47,680. In 2012, his base pay was $65,137 and overtime and callback was $54,475. With salary and benefits, he was taking in $182,675.

Lonny Zimmerman, 43, the deputy director of parks and recreation and director of neighborhood services, and Jim Stritchko, 50, the recreation manager since October 2011, are no longer city employees.

The city now will split the two departments. Stephen Harsin, who has been director of both departments since the merger, will oversee the drastically smaller Neighborhood Services Department, which is being split from parks and recreation. A new director will take over parks and recreation.

Fretwell described the fiscal 2015 budget being $30 million less than when the city was at its peak financially before the recession hit. Its $499 million compares to this year’s budget of $482 million. The deficit is just shy of $9 million and will be paid out of reserves. She said there is “severe underperformance in some revenue sources.”

Fretwell blamed the “very difficult, very slow recovery,” semi-joking that she’ll “be retired by the time property tax revenues return to their prerecession level.”

The goal of the budget, she said, “is to restore services that have been cut.” There will be 55 new jobs created, one administrative.

The revenue enhancement includes $7 million raised by the increase in the Las Vegas Fire Department’s hospital transports and higher fees for recreation, Municipal Court, business licenses and building and safety.

The fees generated by Municipal Court have dropped by 30 percent because police are not issuing citations, Fretwell replied to one question from the council.

Fretwell and her management team were repeatedly praised by the mayor and council members for their conservative budgeting, despite the deficit.

Councilman Bob Beers said Reno had just approved its budget and announced it had to lay off 35 firefighters and has reserves of only 7 percent compared to Las Vegas’s reserves of nearly 19 percent.

“There’s a stark contrast between the two cities,” he said.

Contact Jane Ann Morrison at jmorrison@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275.

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