Local government officials have assured the public they’re focused on preserving “essential services,” a budget-cutting catch phrase intended to reflect the elimination of frills and the preservation of only core municipal functions.
So what are taxpayers to make of this week’s closures of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson city halls, the reputed nerve centers of the valley’s urban areas?
The buildings are already closed Fridays and weekends. But as part of contract concessions from each of the cities’ employee unions, most city offices and services were shut down Monday. They’ll reopen Jan. 3, meaning the city halls will have been closed for 10 days, covering two holiday weekends. (Public safety workers remain on the job.)
Las Vegas and North Las Vegas workers are taking unpaid furloughs this week. Henderson workers get paid holidays.
Cities must pursue cost savings wherever they can in response to recession-driven revenue declines. But at some point, limiting public access to supposedly vital services will create the perception that they’re not so important after all — and that cities aren’t doing enough to rein in spending.
The cost-cutting kabuki has not yet confronted the biggest fiscal challenge: wages and benefits. Scheduled pay raises have been reduced or eliminated and schedules have been slightly reduced in some cases, but the base salaries that are pushing city budgets to the breaking point remain intact.
Cities must take steps to actually reduce the salaries and benefits that were found by a Chamber of Commerce study to be among the most generous in the nation. They must stop limiting public access to city services. Otherwise, city services really aren’t that “essential,” are they?