Las Vegas Sun

April 21, 2014

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Mayor: More mergers needed between Las Vegas, Clark County

Goodman hints city unions might still make concessions to save jobs

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Grammy-award winning musician Emilio Estefan, right, accepts a ceremonial key to the City of Las Vegas, which he will share with his wife, Gloria Estefan, this morning at Mayor Oscar Goodman's weekly press conference. Estefan is in Las Vegas to take part in the annual Senores of Excellence - Senoras of Distinction Gala on Saturday at Wynn Las Vegas. The gala benefits the Latin Chamber of Commerce Scholarship Fund. Estefan is also working with other Nevadans to establish the National Museum of the American Latino in Washington, D.C.

As Las Vegas tries to deal with a $70 million revenue shortfall for next fiscal year, more employees could lose their jobs, more services could be cut and more city and county services could be merged, Mayor Oscar Goodman said today.

"We're going to explore everything," Goodman said this morning at his weekly press conference at city hall. "I think everything is ripe for discussion, that's for sure."

However, the mayor indicated he was still holding out hope that the city's four unions might grant the city some concessions so 280 employees or more wouldn't lose their jobs. The city council plans to approve a final budget on May 18.

Goodman said the city was getting "very close" to finalizing its budget, but he didn't yet know how many total city employees would be laid off as a result of cuts.

In a tentative 2011 fiscal year budget the city council approved in March, about 141 employees would lose their jobs in mid June. The council had asked the city's four unions to make some concessions to save those jobs.

Those concessions, which include taking an 8 percent salary cut and getting no cost-of-living increase, would save just less than $30 million.

However, last week the largest union, the Las Vegas City Employees Association, told the city it had voted not to grant any concessions.

So Goodman announced that the city manager would go forward and balance the budget with the idea of not cutting as deeply into reserves. He had said that could mean twice as many or more city employees could lose jobs.

Since that time, Goodman said the city manager told him that "some progress was being made with some of the unions, or at least one of the unions."

Goodman said he spoke to Dean Fletcher, who represents the firefighters union, who indicated he would like to meet with Goodman and the city manager on Monday.

"Hopefully, we're going to be making some progress," Goodman said. "I know this: The departments have been given directives to cut even more than they had been given before because it doesn't look like the income is going to be there."

Cutting the budget also means cutting services and cutting more employees, he said.

"That's heartbreaking, but, nevertheless, we're dealing with reality here and we're not dealing with hurt feelings ... They say I'm a bully because they say I'm saying 'See it my way or see the highway,'" Goodman said. "But the truth of the matter is we can't pay for things that we don't have money for. And once they understand that maybe they will make the concessions we're asking for."

Goodman said City Manager Betsy Fretwell and Clark County Manager Virginia Valentine are meeting with county and city fire chiefs to see what services, if any, they are able to merge.

Goodman and Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid announced the merger plan earlier this week, seeing it as a way to reduce overtime expenses. Clark County pays its firefighters $15 million in overtime and Las Vegas pays $11.8 million.

"It's not a consolidation as much as a merger of specific services, like hazardous materials, heavy equipment, training and those kinds of things," Goodman said. "We think there's a lot of duplication now and we have to look every single place we can in order to pool resources and to save money."

Goodman said he has heard that some members of the community are pleased that the governments are working together and are not afraid to make changes.

"I know I'm doing the right thing in my heart of going forward and trying to change the way the culture of municipal government and government on a local level is done," he said.

Goodman said the city and county should look in terms of also merging services in other departments, including building, public works, parks, user services, information technology, communications and planning.

"The way that we're set up here has never made any sense," he said.

He explained that the city's zoning laws don't apply beyond its municipal borders, so neighborhoods that straddle the line could end up with a strange mix of property uses.

For example, the properties on the north side of Sahara Avenue, which is in the city's borders, might be zoned residential, he said.

"On the south side, which would be the county side, you could have a gentleman's club. And the two are not compatible with one another and yet the codes may permit that kind of usage," he said.

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