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October 2, 2014

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Las Vegas City Council approves relatively ‘flat’ budget for 2013

Budget has minor deficit that will be handled by reserves, city manager says

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Steve Marcus

Politicians, officials and guests watch a light show during the dedication of the new city hall in downtown Las Vegas Monday, March 5, 2012.

The good news is that, unlike recent years, there won’t be any employee layoffs or cuts in programs or services next year for the city of Las Vegas.

But there are some budget problems coming up the following year — the city will have to pay about $16 million more for the Metro Police budget and will also have to begin paying on the debt for the new $185 million City Hall.

Those were some of the issues presented to the Las Vegas City Council Tuesday afternoon during a special meeting to deal with the budget for Fiscal Year 2013, which begins July 1.

City Manager Betsy Fretwell and the city’s top budgeting officers laid out the $468.8 million budget to the council, which unanimously adopted it.

“It doesn’t cut anything. It’s basically a flat budget with minor restorations in some service areas that have endured some very significant cuts over the last couple of years,” Fretwell told reporters after the meeting.

But there will be a relatively small deficit — about $10.4 million in revenue — the city can use its reserves to make up that difference, Fretwell said.

The budget includes paying off the $13.5 million debt on the downtown Neonopolis public garage — plus using about $25 million for several new "strategic capital projects" around town, she said.

Fretwell said the city made some very difficult decisions two to three years ago that involved severe cuts in city services, severe compensation adjustments and severe staffing adjustments, which resulted in closing most city offices on Fridays.

“It’s been a rough, rough go,” Fretwell said.

But the decisions made in those past years has put the city in a much better financial situation than it was two to three years ago, she said.

She thanked city employees and union leaders for making sacrifices to get the city through the past three bad years.

Fretwell said the city has been fortunate to see a resurgence in sales tax and in its consolidated tax, or C-tax, performance. While the C-Tax revenue has increased about $10.5 million, the property tax has fallen about $7.6 million.

“Are things feeling better, are we stabilizing? Absolutely,” she said. “Are we managing through those budgetary structural revenue shortfalls? Yes. Are we using our reserves to do that? Yes. Is that why we have those reserves? Absolutely.”

She said that while the 2013 budget is flat, the city’s staff is preparing for what they expect to be a “fairly difficult” budget year in 2014.

“We’re trying to plus up our funding for Metro, phasing in our debt payments for City Hall and some of the other debt we still have on the books, and preparing for whatever the economy brings us,” she said.

Her projections are for a $26.5 million deficit in the 2014 fiscal year. She projects the reserves to be drawn down to 9.3 percent, which is lower than the 12 percent her staff recommends.

However, she told the council that she felt like the city’s organization was much more stable this year — so much that the city can begin to restore some of the areas that it had cut significantly, she said.

For example, there is funding in the budget to fund two new fire stations, bringing them on fully staffed.

Fretwell said the budget also begins adding back hours for some employees, with the hope to continue that trend over the next couple of years, she said.

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