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August 19, 2014

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Las Vegas, Clark County collaborate to limit firefighter overtime

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Justin M. Bowen

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman (left) and Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid announced Tuesday from City Hall a new shared service initiative to reduced costs.

Updated Tuesday, April 27, 2010 | 7:10 p.m.

Don’t call it “consolidation.” It’s “shared services.”

Whatever you call what they want to do, Las Vegas and Clark County have added fire and rescue to a list of services they are looking to combine to save money.

Targeted in early April, those services are: animal control, business licensing, information technology, parks, television production and purchasing.

During a press conference Tuesday, Rory Reid, the County Commission chairman, said adding firefighters to the mix came about partly because of the reluctance of firefighters to give up any salary or benefits when other unions did so last year.

“It would be a disservice to those who made sacrifices not to point out those who have not,” Reid said at a press conference at City Hall with Mayor Oscar Goodman standing next to him. “I’m talking about firefighters.”

He and Goodman are asking county and city staff to develop suggestions by June. For the fire department, the two talked generally about “sharing” hazardous materials teams, heavy rescue teams, training and vehicle mechanics. They also mentioned building inspectors.

Sources, however, said they more likely meant fire investigators because of tentative plans to consolidate the county’s fire inspectors with the county’s development services.

Overall, the idea is to combine the services to free up firefighters to fill in for other firefighters who call in sick, are on vacation or otherwise absent.

By having those extra firefighters available to fill in at straight pay, the county and city would avoid paying overtime.

Though the two did not talk about specific dollar savings, Commissioner Sisolak, who has called for consolidation of the fire departments and other services, told the Sun he had heard some of the changes would save each government about $1.1 million.

For training alone, Clark County taxpayers paid nine Fire Department employees $1.2 million in fiscal 2009. That’s $937,000 for salary, benefits and overtime, plus $292,000 for contributions to their retirement accounts.

One question that will inevitably arise from the shared services agreement: Is this the beginning of further consolidation between the two municipalities?

Not likely. Sisolak said consolidating city and county police departments to form the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in 1973 set a bad precedent. When the smoke cleared, negotiators chose the higher of the two salaries from each department for the new department. With average Clark County firefighters salaries, benefits and overtime of $181,000, no one wants a similar result for a combined fire department.

Instead, Sisolak said, if there is a move to consolidate departments he’d like the county to push for “zero-based” budgeting on the collective bargaining agreement.

That means, officials would begin talks at zero—getting rid of decades of perks and bonus pay built into current contracts and starting over with a clean slate.

“We can go in with whatever we want. We can start all over,” Sisolak said. “Sure the unions can object, but it’s gotten so desperate, we have to start looking at it.”

The county is close to finalizing its budget. After filling in some gaps with reserve money and holding open more than 1,000 jobs, the county still needs to cut $57 million from next year’s budget. The cuts are likely to result in the elimination of hundreds of jobs.

Las Vegas, meanwhile, is confronting a shortfall of its own estimated at $70 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. City officials have said widespread layoffs are likely.

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