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City Council agrees to new, sparser budget for fiscal year 2014

North Las Vegas City Council members looked to pare city spending last month, signing off on a sparse budget meant to offset the $19 million shortfall expected in fiscal year 2014.

Only Ward 1 Councilman Robert Eliason opposed next year’s budget balancing act, explaining that he and City Manager Tim Hacker “had a few things to work out” before the state-vetted budget returns for final council approval this summer. The three-term councilman declined further comment on his May 21 vote.

The city-approved spending plan turned in to state tax officials the week of June 1 calls for $14 million in general fund cuts to go along with a combined $4 million cut for city library and public safety funds.

City Hall has until July 1 to figure out where those savings will come from. If new revenues don’t materialize before then, city agencies will go without the $15 million expected to help maintain services over the next year.

Council members have closed the city jail, browned out city fire stations and left hundreds of positions unfilled in an effort to bridge deficits totaling $50 million over the last two fiscal years.

This time around, they’ll look for a lucrative windfall from state-managed public safety and utility funds — or else millions in hoped-for concessions from city public safety unions — to help plug the budget gap.

“We were in very good shape before this recession started, and I think things beyond our control — being shortchanged in C-Taxes and what’s happened with property tax revenues — have really put us in this situation,” said outgoing Mayor Shari Buck. “I expect, as we go through this budget, we’ll come out hopefully able to provide the same level of services we have today.”

North Las Vegas Finance Director Al Zochowski told council members the lion’s share of fiscal year 2014 spending increases stems from employee wage and benefit increases, with the rest going toward “services and supplies.”

“I’m not picking on any department. I just want to show you that 25 percent of our budget does go to the fire department, and 35 percent of our general fund budget does go to the police department,” Zochowski said. “There used to be a norm of salaries and benefits never exceeding two-thirds of total budget. … Here we are closing in on 80 percent of the total budget.”

Without legislative help from Carson City or progress at the bargaining table, Zochowski fears steep declines in city and state tax revenues, coupled with ever-rising salary obligations, could spell a second year of deep service cuts.

Hacker wishes he could disagree.

Asked whether this year’s shortfall could mean layoffs, service reductions or even the return of a “fiscal emergency” resolution used to help patch last year’s $33 million budget gap, Hacker said city officials may need to consider all three.

“We had some success last year with large (spending) decreases on the detention facility,” Hacker said. “This year, we don’t have one large panacea, so it’s going to be more incremental.

“But again, the fiscal reality is the same as it was last year.”

Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at jdehaven@viewnews.com or 702-477-3839.

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