Union negotiation outcomes will shape North Las Vegas’ budget shortfall

North Las Vegas took an early look at an expected $18 million budget hole Tuesday, hosting the first in a series of meetings aimed at finding fixes for ballooning short- and long-term deficits projected in the wake of a costly court defeat suffered last month.

A Jan. 21 ruling from District Judge Susan Johnson found the cash-strapped city had no right to freeze $25 million in pay raises owed to union employees under collective bargaining agreements signed in the mid-2000s.

City leaders, who first forced the concessions under the terms of a city-declared “fiscal emergency” in June 2012, doubled down on the pay freeze in August.

Doubts over the city’s ability to renew the effort for a third time have City Finance Director Darren Adair worried about paying the city’s bills through fiscal 2015.

Adair could see the city running between $43 million and $60 million in the red next year, depending on how settlement negotiations shake out with the city’s public safety unions.

He reports staff have already turned over just about every rock at City Hall in an effort to dig up new revenue.

“We’ve found, in a majority of cases, there’s already been a lot of fine tuning in these accounts,” Adair told council members Tuesday. “Most everything has been looked at as far as freeing up room for transfers to the general fund.”

Each of the options available to help the city bridge its projected seven-year, $152.6 million deficit requires a stamp of approval from either a judge, state legislator or tax official.

Without a pending appeal to the state Supreme Court, and with the Legislature not back in session until 2015, it’ll be up to union bosses and city leaders to come up with a blueprint to span the city’s short-term deficit by the end of May.

Adair highlighted two readily available alternatives to help balance the city’s books.

One would see the city cut into its statutorily-mandated 8 percent ending fund balance, freeing up as much $5 million in reserves, but leaving the city with less than a month’s worth of cash.

A second would see officials dip into the city’s roughly $5 million store of More Cops tax funds set aside for police equipment and hiring.

That didn’t sit well with Police Supervisors Association President Leonard Cardinale, who wondered why officials would want to move money out of an account that already subsidizes the city’s general fund to the tune of more than $1 million annually.

“My problem with it is, as far as we know, they have 32 officers’ pay coming out of that fund who aren’t supposed to be paid out of that fund,” Cardinale said. “So they’re draining that and we’re being told (the More Cops fund) is going to be broke by 2016, so how can they use that toward the deficit?”

A recent report from city auditors at Piercy, Bowler, Taylor &Kern suggested the city cut costs by dumping its stake in the North Las Vegas Library District and the Aliante Golf Club.

Residents’ recommendations on the topic ranged from toll roads to firehose-equipped police trucks.

Mayor Pro Tempore Anita Wood sounded eager to take all advice into account. Barring a breakthrough settlement with city bargaining groups, she and other city leaders plan to keep the suggestion box open.

“We’ve done everything we can to do more with less,” Wood said. “It seems like whenever we come up with savings we use it to entice concessions or come up with raises that have come due.

“Yes we have contract obligations, but at some point we need to do something a little different, something we can plan the city’s future on.”

Contact reporter James DeHaven at 702-477-3839 or jdehaven@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JamesDeHaven.

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