Sunday, April 12, 2009 | 2 a.m.
After obtaining salary concessions from two unions, county administrators are struggling to broker a deal with a third — the county firefighters union.
Foreseeing worsening budget problems because of withering tax collections, Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid and County Manager Virginia Valentine began talks in November with the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which represents 2,500 cops; the Service Employees International Union, which represents 9,500 county employees; and the International Association of Firefighters, which represents about 770 firefighters.
In March, the police union agreed to forgo a 3 percent cost of living increase that would have kicked in July 1.
The SEIU agreed this month to trim cost of living raises to 1 percent instead of 3 percent and cap merit increases at 4 percent instead of 5 percent.
To date, however, there has been no agreement with firefighters, who are to receive 3 percent cost of living raises July 1. The county cannot change terms of those contracts without union approval.
Why has there been no agreement with the firefighters?
Ryan Beaman, president of their union, said the county firefighters’ position at this point is that they are “under our collective bargaining agreement until June 30, 2010.” He added that the county has not proposed cutting the firefighters’ 3 percent raises.
Are they working on proposals to save money elsewhere?
They are, but neither Beaman nor Reid would elaborate. The two sides say they will not talk to the media until an agreement is hammered out. “I remain optimistic that our efforts will result in a cost savings to the citizens of Clark County,” Beaman said.
Isn’t it getting kind of late?
Clark County wants the outline of its budget in place by the end of May. That’s when the lion’s share of the changes being ordered by the Legislature should be known. Numerous county officials are growing increasingly frustrated with the firefighters union. Some say the firefighters — or at least their union leaders — have an “entitlement” attitude and haven’t been willing to do their part to help the county weather dire economic conditions.
Are many county firefighters collecting big paychecks anyway?
Studies found that because of overtime pay, 523 of the county’s 770 firefighters earned more than $100,000 in 2007.
What does Beaman say about the “sense of entitlement” allegation?
“We neither view ourselves as entitled or untouchable,” Beaman replied. “We are dedicated public employees who care greatly about providing the best service to the citizens and visitors of Clark County.”
What’s the latest on the running battle over the county’s long-planned shooting park?
A federal judge conducted a hearing early last week in a case that pits northern Las Vegas Valley residents against the massive shooting complex under construction near their neighborhoods. The park is being built on 2,900 acres north of Moccasin Road between Decatur Boulevard and Buffalo Drive and north of Interstate 215. At about 180 acres, the first public phase of the park is being constructed with $64 million in federal grants. Among other things, residents argue gunfire will be louder than allowed by county ordinance. They seek to push park operations farther away or to kill the plan.
What happened in court?
The Bureau of Land Management said an environmental-impact statement should have been prepared before park construction began. That assessment can take 18 to 24 months to complete, BLM spokeswoman Hillerie Patton said. The BLM is working on one and expects to complete it by Aug. 3.
Why wasn’t the environmental assessment done a long time ago?
Patton said legislation attached to the land transfer from the BLM to Clark County did not specify the environmental impact statement requirement.
Will this delay the park’s opening?
The first phase of park had been scheduled to open in June. County spokeswoman Jennifer Knight said that has been moved to August, but she said construction delays are the reason.
But that assumes that the federal judge decides in the county’s favor, right?
It does. A ruling is expected within two weeks. The judge has a lot to review, including a critique of a sound study completed for the county. The county’s study found decibel levels within the park would fall within legal parameters. But an expert hired by the neighbors criticized the study, saying instruments were calibrated incorrectly when measurements were taken, and mathematical calculations were wrong. Had those things been done differently, the expert said, findings would have shown the potential decibel level to be too high.