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North Las Vegas firefighters burning through allotted overtime budget

The North Las Vegas Fire Department exceeded its allotted budget for overtime just six months into the current fiscal year.

That, with reported sick leave abuse by firefighters in Clark County, motivated the City Council to postpone a scheduled Wednesday vote on contract concessions with its firefighters union that would have saved the jobs of 33 firefighters.

Without an agreement, layoffs could come as soon as July.

“We can’t pretend we didn’t hear what’s going on in other jurisdictions,” Councilwoman Anita Wood said Thursday. “I want to let our taxpayers know we have looked into it” in North Las Vegas.

The Fire Department’s budget for overtime in fiscal year 2010-11, which began July 1 and ends June 30, is a little more than $1.5 million. But the department already had spent more than
$1.7 million by Dec. 31.

The council postponed the concessions vote 60 days so city officials can audit the department personnel’s use of sick leave and overtime to ensure neither is being abused.

The cash-strapped city, which has in recent years undergone several rounds of budget cuts, service reductions and layoffs, can’t afford to pay out much extra in overtime costs, Wood said. All city departments have been told to reduce their overtime use, she said.

“Where will that money come from?” she asked.

The city is dealing with a $35 million shortfall through fiscal year 2011-12.

Fire Chief Al Gillespie acknowledged his department has “been burning through overtime pretty quickly” but said it was necessary to maintain services and was not related to any abuse of sick leave.

North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck, who was the lone vote against postponement Wednesday, also defended the department, saying overtime was necessary because the city has frozen positions and some firefighters have retired or taken buyouts.

“We forced them to have to pay more overtime,” said Buck, who has opposed cuts to public safety. “We tied their hands.”

Wood said the city might have to consider reducing Fire Department staffing levels, an idea Buck vehemently opposes.

“We are already bare bones,” she said. “We have to do what we have to do to keep our citizens safe.”

The concessions agreement between the firefighters union, IAFF Local 1607, and the city, worth about $3 million, includes suspending cost-of-living raises for 2011. In exchange, the city would agree in part not to lay off firefighters in the union through the end of the fiscal year.

North Las Vegas employs 103 firefighters and firefighter-paramedics and 34 fire engineers, city officials said. Firefighters in the city average $162,000 a year in salaries and benefits, according to a committee formed last year to study the city’s budget. The department’s 2010-11 budget is $45.9 million.

Police and Teamsters union representatives came to concession agreements with the city in recent months.

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

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