Las Vegas Sun

November 27, 2014

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North Las Vegas striving to reduce budget crisis

Even with time running out for North Las Vegas to get its finances in order, a visit from the Nevada Taxation Department and weeks of recommendations from the acting city finance director have not produced a big change in its budget crisis.

Mayor Shari Buck says the media is making the city’s financial situation seem like a bigger problem than it really is, but acknowledges something has to be done. After reviewing the latest budget proposal, she told Acting finance Director Al Noyola that the city must negotiate with the police unions soon, or further cuts will end city services at already stressed recreation centers.

Noyola presented a budget reduction update to the City Council and a room full of concerned citizens Wednesday night, stating that the city’s once $30.3 million deficit is now only $4.9 million. He said the reduction is a result of concessions with the firefighters union, among other cuts. The lingering gap costs the city upward of $150,000 a week.

And with neighborhood pools and community centers on the line, the mayor said the city has two weeks to negotiate with the police unions before the council starts raising prices for services at Silver Mesa and Neighborhood Recreation Center. City pools are open only on weekends, libraries have cut 18 weekly hours and rec centers are no longer open seven days a week.

The past two City Council meetings proved how worried residents are that financial problems are affecting community services. Hours of public forum include prepared statements from children who beg the council to “think again” if they try to close down community programs such as the karate class that Stephanie Gorden teaches at Neighborhood Recreation Center. Gorden has taught at the center for more than 20 years, almost as long as she has lived in the valley, and said her program teaches children not only karate, but discipline, respect for elders and to get good grades. She teaches 6-year-old kids to 80-year-old seniors but won’t let any student advance if they are making bad grades. She often uses her own money to pay for things students can’t cover and fears many will not be able to afford the class if prices go up.

“Most kids live in that area and they can’t travel to or afford other community programs,” Gorden said. “You don’t want to make (the price) so high the kids can’t afford it.”

Leonard Cardinale, president of the North Las Vegas Police Supervisors Association said the police unions are ready to make a deal with the city.

“We’re offering recurring and one-time concessions,” Cardinale said.

Both sides have been talking for weeks with no deal on the table yet.

Bob Borgersen, who has lived in North Las Vegas for 16 years and tries to go to every council meeting, thinks that the police union needs to give more this time around.

“The fire union gave up 5 percent and they still make four times the average family in North Las Vegas,” Borgersen said. “If (police unions) would do that we could save jobs. We have to pay these people all this money that we don’t have but we cut back on libraries and rec centers.”

The city has 285 commissioned officers that make an average of $156,974 a year in salary and benefits. That includes all ranks, from patrol officers to the chief of police. Police and detectives average a salary of $84,150 a year and $54,537 in benefits.

Borgersen is disappointed in decisions the city has approved in the past, like extending police and fire union contracts, the new city hall and the water reclamation plant.

“All (the council) has done is postpone the inevitable,” Borgersen said.

And the inevitable is that the state may take over if the budget gap doesn’t close.

The city met Thursday with the Taxation Department and promised to make unspecified cuts by Sept. 30 to prevent a cash problem. The council said Wednesday night it hopes to have a deal with police unions in two weeks, when they will have an update on what recreation fees will increase.

The state’s immediate concern is the city’s projected $9 million general fund deficit for 2012, which could cause the city to have trouble meeting payroll in the second quarter — and trigger a severe financial emergency.

The next North Las Vegas City Council meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Aug. 15 and 16 at 2200 Civic Center Drive.

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