Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2014

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NLV City Council caught off guard by budget survey

Shari Buck

Shari Buck

William Robinson

William Robinson

Anita Wood

Anita Wood

Robert Eliason

Robert Eliason

Richard Cherchio

Richard Cherchio

To foster better communication between North Las Vegas residents and officials, the city launched a survey Tuesday asking a pressing question: We have to cut our budget. Where would you be willing to give?

But it appears that communication wasn’t intact between the mayor and council before the survey was sent out. All four council members — Richard Cherchio, Robert Eliason, Antia Wood and Mayor Pro Tempore William Robinson — said they were never notified about the survey. And they aren’t happy about it.

“It’s very disappointing that we’re sending out a city survey, and the council had no input into the questions,” Eliason said. “It’s pretty sad that we’ve gotten to this point where nobody is talking to nobody.”

The survey begins with a welcome page that informs residents that during the next fiscal year, the city will need to make about $42 million in budget cuts.

“We’d like your help in shaping the FY 2011-2012 municipal budget,” the page says.

Cherchio, Robinson and Wood all said they thought the survey was deceptive, because it doesn’t mention that the city’s the fire, police and Teamsters unions are in ongoing talks with the city about where they can cut their budgets.

No one is going to say public safety isn’t important, Wood said, adding that the survey seems stacked in favor of keeping public safety positions at the expense of other city jobs and services.

Wood said she first saw the survey in a city press release. She called the survey misleading, saying that what it was really asking was, “What are you willing to give up so police and fire unions don’t have to give up anything?”

“That’s a different question by far,” she said. “That’s what the people need to know...People don’t need to give things up” if the unions do.

Jeff Hurley, president of the North Las Vegas Firefighters Union, said he thought comments like Woods’ indicate where she thinks the public will come down on the issue of public safety.

“One can construe that to say, ‘If you let the citizens pick, they’ll pick public safety,’” he said. “I thought it was the right way to go. Ask the citizens.”

Hurley said the union is in talks with the city. “We’re going to find another concession package,” he said.

So far, he said, no firefighters in North Las Vegas have lost their jobs.

North Las Vegas laid off 188 employees in June to balance the budget, city spokeswoman Juliet Casey said.

So far, Wood said, she has been unimpressed with what the unions have been willing to concede.

If the police, fire and Teamsters unions in North Las Vegas do not agree to take their share of across-the-board budget cuts, she said, the city’s staff will be decimated by layoffs.

The layoffs, she said, could leave the city without necessary staffers in other departments, such as economic development, the group that would help North Las Vegas turn around its economy.

“We cannot do this without a buy-in from all three groups,” she said. “The reality is, we have to work together.”

Robinson said he thought the survey came too late to be effective. The city’s leadership has procrastinated long enough, he said.

It’s time for action, he said, not questions.

“The city is suffering,” Robinson said. “You don’t need a survey to determine what’s going on in our city.”

Robinson said he does not plan to use the survey as part of his Sept. 30 town hall meeting.

Cherchio said he first saw the survey on the city’s website while checking his e-mail.

“I cannot ask a resident their opinion on what they want to give up even more than what they already gave up in this economy...until the unions come to the table,” Cherchio said. “This is where we should be focusing our energies — on getting them to work with us to save the city and to benefit our residents.”

He said he worried the survey wouldn’t collect an accurate cross-section of the city’s residents. Older residents in Aliante may not care about city parks as much as families with young children, he said.

Cherchio said one of the questions in the survey, about the willingness to take on higher taxes, was ludicrous.

Cherchio said he didn’t think the council was kept in the dark “maliciously” but was concerned about the lack of transparency between the mayor and council.

Mayor Shari Buck said she asked the city manager’s office to draft the survey because she wanted to be in closer communication with her constituents. She launched the survey as part of her town hall meeting Tuesday night.

“I asked for a survey for my town hall,” she said. “If other council members don’t like the survey, they certainly don’t have to use it at their town hall.”

Buck, who has long been against cutting public safety positions, said she did not think the survey favored the police and fire unions.

“It’s a very board survey about parks and recreation,” she said. “What it really comes down to is we have limited dollars.”

Buck said she thought the city’s top job as public servants was to keep citizens safe. “That’s always been my top priority,” she said.

City Manager Maryann Ustick could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Casey said surveys conducted by the city are not uncommon. But, she said, this is the first time in her five years with the city that staffers have asked residents where they think budget cuts should be made.

Staffers crafted the survey after similar ones conducted in other cities, including Los Angeles; Austin, Texas; and Anchorage, Alaska, Casey said.

“The main point of the survey was to give people yet another opportunity to speak up about budget reductions,” she said.

Casey said she did not know why the council members weren’t notified about the survey.

To view the survey, go to the city's website.

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