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December 20, 2014

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Local government:

Metro budget planning gives insight into troubles down the road facing Las Vegas, Clark County

Metro Police asked to share budget

KSNV coverage of North Las Vegas leaders ask Metro Police to consider sharing budgets, April 6, 2012.

The country may be healing economically, but local governments here are just beginning to fret about what’s to come.

No one wants to end up like cash-strapped North Las Vegas, which is contemplating suspending parts of the city’s contracts with unions to control costs.

But the very real fear that the separate governments of Clark County and Las Vegas don’t see a quick end to their depleted budgets became evident, police sources told the Sun, during closed-door talks Monday between Metro Police administrators and elected officials from the city and county.

The upshot: Neither the city nor the county want to give Metro any more money than is necessary. And with Metro facing a budget hole that could be as high as $68 million in the fiscal year starting July 1, 2013, the city and county do not want to have to fork over the millions more needed to fill that void.

So this is what happened:

During a closed-door session to discuss contract negotiations with Metro’s civilian employees union, sources said, Sheriff Doug Gillespie recommended 3 percent merit pay raises in the first year and 1 percent in the second year of a two-year contract. Seeing he wouldn’t get that, he switched to 1 percent and 1 percent.

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Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie speaks during an editorial board meeting with Las Vegas Sun staff inside his office in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2012.

Then came the surprise. The city’s two representatives, councilmen Stavros Anthony and Ricki Barlow, drew a line in the sand. They said no union merit increases, no benefits increases, no increases at all for a contract that would extend from July 2013 through June 2015.

Eyebrows raised. Barlow and Anthony are both fairly new to Fiscal Affairs, and no one expected either, especially Anthony, a former police officer, to object to the sheriff’s budget.

Their argument, though, was pretty clear. In the next two years, Las Vegas will start making some new bond payments; it has already set aside additional money for Metro in fiscal year 2013 (which begins July 1, 2012); and it will start making lease payments on the new City Hall. Those payments will grow to $13.4 million annually by 2017.

Meanwhile, the city each year has to come up with 40 percent of Metro’s budget that isn’t covered by self-generated revenues. That also means that if Metro needs additional dollars to eliminate a deficit, the city will need to come up with 40 percent of the department’s needs.

Metro’s budget hole is expected to be anywhere between $50 million and $68 million. That means the city would need to find an additional $20 million to $27 million. The county’s share would be an additional $30 million to $41 million because its share of Metro’s budget is about 60 percent.

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Stavros Anthony

Adding to the county’s potential problems is another monumental money issue in 2014. That’s the year voters will decide whether to tax themselves again, renewing a 20-year-old, voter-approved tax that raises about $15 million per year for Fire Department operations and capital expenses. There’s a real chance voters could say no, given that many observers see firefighters in the midst of a public relations disaster tied to sick-leave abuse, firefighters’ relatively high wages and benefits, and county battles against the firefighters union.

Barlow and Anthony don’t represent a Fiscal Affairs Committee majority, sources said, but the three other Fiscal Affairs members — County Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Larry Brown and private citizen James Hammer — also appeared to be against increases.

Neither Sisolak nor Brown would comment about that closed-door discussion. Anthony and Barlow could not be reached for comment.

Sources said the sheriff said the union’s stance was that it had given concessions over the last three years, but now it’s time for some payback. Last year, the union gave up merit and longevity pay increases for one year, the third year in a row the union made concessions. (Union members did receive a 1.125 percent increase in pension contributions.)

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Ricki Y. Barlow

That didn’t sway the Fiscal Affairs Committee members, however.

For years, Sisolak has harped that the time for concessions by unions was far from over, that the private sector was hurting as much or more than unionized employees and that tax dollars were far from peak levels of five years ago when all Nevada governmental units were flush with dollars from wild-eyed development.

“The problem is the county isn’t collecting more tax dollars,” Sisolak said Tuesday. “We’re still struggling.”

In part, political observers told the Sun, Metro dug its own hole by winning approval for sizable wage and benefits increases over much of the last three decades. The department’s budget, now about a half-billion dollars, increased 10 percent annually for 25 years until 2010. Complicating the situation even more is the sheriff’s promise not to lay anybody off during these tough times.

•••

Sisolak and Brown showed up about 10 minutes into the county’s special budget meeting Monday, late because of the unusually long Fiscal Affairs meeting earlier in the morning.

During the commission meeting, Brown looked concerned. He and the other commissioners approved the Clark County budget for fiscal year 2013. Before doing so, Brown hinted at what went on in Fiscal Affairs, and in doing so issued a warning about the future.

Brown said government views it as a “savings” if it grants public employees raises that are less than expected. The fact remains it is still a raise. Even smaller increases in pay add up. To keep paying those increasing wages, government must cut services or supplies to the bone.

“We’re giving employees pay raises and cutting back everything else ...” he said. “We start getting to the point where to balance the budget we cut ... priority needs.”

Brown applauded the county for cutting where it could (a county spokesman said it has eliminated 972 positions and laid off 422 full-time employees over three years), but he believes harder times are on the way.

“It’s going to hit us,” he said. “It’s going to hit us harder than even the tough times two or three years ago.”

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  1. WHy is there a closed door hearing? Can someone explain to me why?

  2. Good for Barlow and Anthony!

  3. At a MINIMUM, Metro officers need to contribute to their retirements. Their pay should be REDUCED by at least 50% of their PERS contributions, instead of the taxpayers topping off their salaries with an additional 20-25% by covering all retirement costs. And where are those NEGATIVE COLAs? Let's get this moving so our economy can move. Let's cut until compensation is reasonable for employees of the City, County and School District. Come on. Commissioners are correct to NOT APPROVE ANY MORE CONTRACTS for more than one year unless there are significant concessions each year of the contract. We need to CUT PROPERTY TAXES. Let's work for a recovery, a housing recovery, a jobs recovery, a Citizen's recovery.

  4. We cannot spend every dime in projected tax revenues. We need some balances for end-of-year processes. We could also use some balances for contingencies--like slow property tax collections when foreclosures zip up again. And even with that, if we allocate all revenue, what do ya think is gonna happen next time? Maybe next time it's a more minor recession. But employees will have had merit increases, COLA's and be expecting even more saying they've "sacrificed" for 5 years. Adjust your mind set. Tax rates should not ever need to be increased. Rates are excessive now but even so, if you consider that revenue goes up or down with the economy, government's revenue to budget will go up or down with the economy. Government does NOT NEED more revenue when the economy goes down. Might need more for EBT food stamps but much less for building permit staff and other things. So let these highly paid public SERVANTS service the public need, not employee "needs".

  5. Our Police and Fire Dept's are now holding us hostage. The only control we have may not be popular in the political arena, but, numbers can't lie. Finally, good for Barlow and Anthony. Do the right thing.
    I encourage citizens getting a conceal carry permit. Learn the basics in residential fire fighting and prevention. Volunteer in areas you can and yes, let us take back our own communities. We have a police dept. that can't handle or care to handle the small stuff. You have an incident, it may take them more than a day even to get paper work done.
    Common sense has left the buildings. I really wonder how Zappo's will handle their new building in 2017 for 13.4 million p/y. Dang it, so much of this is not sustainable in great economies. HELP

  6. Unless you're lucky enough to change employers, nobody has been seeing a salary increase in the last 4 years. Why should state employees be any different than the private sector?

    Roberta is right. Pensions are a joke. Every government employee should have a 401k, with a matching 3 percent.

  7. We comprehend that the Sheriff is representing his foot soldiers and doing an extraordinary job. It is the job of our Commissioners to say no. To say no now and in the long term. Former Commissioners seem to never have learned that word, "NO." psst: Mr. Wayne: Metro is City / County and local government pay scales are mucho more excessive than State salaries, except for the teachers who could be considered quasi-state employees. And you are correct in that the State Legislature approves local government budgets.

  8. When I counted 12 Metro officers at a CHILD SAFETY SEAT CHECKPOINT (what happend to the 4th ammendment?) a few months ago on Stewart Ave. I knew then it was a waste of resources.

    Between cell phone "sting operations" and "child safety seat checkpoints" I would say Metro is overstaffed.

    It's time to face reality and trim the fat.

  9. "The upshot: Neither the city nor the county want to give Metro any more money than is necessary."

    C'mon Commissioners -- chop-chop!

    Have a peek at what can happen @ http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/in...

    "Government . . . an illusion the governed should not encourage." -- John Updike "Couples"

  10. Jeff, good info. Concise and relevant. LEO's should be well compensated, but that would be the case at HALF the price. So to get there from here, pay cuts of 10% a year? Note that much of the benefits are the retirement that is NOT in their "salary". Almost all of the rest of the world has a gross salary with retirement taken out and maybe matched by the employer--not all of it paid by the employer (us). If politicians refuse to deal with reality, how about a new classification so any and all new hires (and promotions) would be into the new classified positions that have REASONABLE pay scales. p.s. The civilian support staff is just as overpaid as other City and County em0ployees. NO RAISES unless you're into negative numbers.