North Las Vegas officials approved a downsized capital projects budget Wednesday and continued to struggle with finalizing employee layoffs.
City Council approved a five-year, $504 million capital improvement plan in a special budget meeting. The approved plan is 45 percent less than the city’s current five-year plan.
It’s the smallest capital improvement plan since 2005. The plan calls for $309 million in capital projects in the 2011 fiscal year and decreases spending to less than $10 million in 2015.
The biggest projects in the plan include a wastewater reclamation facility and a new city hall campus. Other projects, such as a new shooting range and a new command center for police, have been put on the back burner.
Discussion of the city’s capital projects plan was overshadowed by talk before the meeting about the possibility of 16 firefighters losing their jobs, which could shut down an entire engine company, most likely at Station 52, near Craig and Losee roads.
"We have invested $2.1 million in these 16 firefighters in training, equipment and uniforms," Mayor Shari Buck said. "Now on that one hand it’s a public safety issue, on the other hand it’s $2.1 million that you’ve invested and thrown that away. That bothers me very much."
Ongoing discussions about salary cuts and furlough days between city officials and the firefighters’ union have been unsuccessful. Previously, firefighter union officials have said they’ve come to the table willing to forgo raises and salary increases as well as defer their cost of living adjustments, among other concessions.
"Deferring something to down the road isn’t fiscally responsible," said Councilman Richard Cherchio. "In our economy right now, there just isn’t any money for that. There won’t be any money next year for that. What we would be doing if we agreed to bridge that gap in this fashion, we would just be putting the ax off for another year or two, which would be irresponsible."
Cherchio added that reports about Station 52 closing down entirely in his ward are untrue.
"The thought that the public is going be in jeopardy isn’t the case. What I have heard on the news is that Station 52 in my ward was either going to shut down or lose 16 firefighters. I can tell you while the numbers have been identified and the slips are currently going out, everything will be done according to the contract."
Councilwoman Anita Wood said the problem isn’t the city asking for more concessions from the union or the firefighters.
"The problem is the firefighters are doing their negotiating in a way that’s conditional," Wood said. "It’s conditions that we cannot accept. How do we defer cost of living? We can’t guarantee the economy will be better in a year or two. The economy is just not allowing for those options."
Fire Chief Al Gillespie declined to comment on the situation and referred all questions to the City Manager’s office, which did not return calls Wednesday evening.
Last week, officials of the financially strapped city slashed 204 positions to save the $33.4 million it needs to make it through the next fiscal year. Layoffs will hit most city departments and will completed by mid-June.
"It’s a balancing act, you don’t want to cancel too much because those projects are also putting people to work," Wood said. "North Las Vegas is doing what every family has had to do. We’re looking at our budget, and we’re realistically doing what every family is doing, and it’s not easy. What do we have to give away? What can we keep? Do we have to get rid of the second car?"
City officials are projecting a combined deficit of all major revenue streams at $100 million by fiscal year 2013 if everything remains constant, including contractual obligations.
But Alfonso Noyola, the city’s assistant director of administrative services, stressed to the council that numbers could fluctuate, hopefully for the better, before the city turns their budget in to the state in May.
"We cannot continue the practice of (using) one-time revenues to band-aid the problem," Noyola said. "We must align revenues to expenditures, and at some point need to consider deleting unfunded positions which may take more than two years to fill, including public safety positions."
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