(LAS VEGAS CBS KXNT) North Las Vegas City Council voted on Friday to go forward with a plan to suspend provisions of labor agreements with key bargaining units, including those representing police and fire fighters.
The vote follows contentious negotiations in which the city sought to freeze salaries and pare back compensation to plug a $33 million budget gap. The special city council meeting was held late in the day on June 1, the legal deadline for public entities to submit balanced budgets to the state for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Mayor Shari Buck called the resolution a “decision of last resort.” City officials emphasized repeatedly during the final weeks of negotiation that they would prefer to reach agreement with the unions.
The mayor castigated union members who clapped and cheered earlier this week after a vote to reject the city’s terms, even as 60 of their colleagues would face layoffs as a consequence. Buck called the behavior “disgraceful and shameful.”
Buck also tried to squelch rumors that the state of Nevada is preparing to take over the operation of North Las Vegas, under a process known as “severe financial emergency,” in which the Department of Taxation assumes responsibility for day-to-day financial decisions on behalf of an insolvent local entity.
Those rumors are harmful to the city’s image, Buck said. Under a state takeover, the citizens would lose control of their city, she said.
“We are fighters, and we will solve our own problems,” Buck said.
The city’s primary problem is a budget in which employee compensation comprises 80 percent, according to City Manager Tim Hacker, who has said the union contracts are unsustainable.
As June 1 drew near and unions representing city workers repeatedly declined scaled-down compensation, Hacker recommended the city council invoke a Nevada statute that gives emergency authority to local governments. Under that authority, he recommended the council allow him to temporarily strip out contract provisions the unions had refused to concede, including merit increases, uniform allowances, and holiday sell-back pay, which allows workers to receive cash for unused days off.
Labor leaders claim the city is stretching the meaning of the Nevada statute that permits such an emergency declaration by city government, and have promised to fight North Las Vegas in court. Labor representatives have said the statute contemplates a natural disaster or other physical emergency, not a financial one.
Hacker has defended the strategy, and called upon city attorney Jeff Barr at Friday’s meeting to explain the city’s emergency authority.
“You as the city council have the inherent authority, and the statutory authority, to protect the health, safety, and welfare of your citizens,” Barr told the council. “You have the authority, and you have the duty, and indeed the moral obligation to protect the health, safety, and welfare of your citizens, under NRS 288.”
NRS 288 is the Nevada Revised Statute governing collective bargaining for public employees.