Yet all of it is not enough to close the budget gap. Thus, the city is attempting to temporarily suspend its collective bargaining agreements with the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association, the North Las Vegas Police Supervisors Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1607. The suspensions include pay raises, holiday sell-back pay, and uniform allowances.
Union officials accuse the city of mismanagement and fabricating the numbers regarding both the 217 layoffs and the $30 million budget gap. “We need to have state officials step in,” said Capt. Jeff Hurley, president of North Las Vegas Firefighters Local 1607. “It is clear, there is no one running North Las Vegas City Hall. (City Manager) Tim Hacker is in way over his head. This is not the guy who is going to be able to steer this city through this time of need.” According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the state Department of Taxation is already monitoring the city’s finances and could step in and impose its own rules, including raising taxes. Mr. Hacker contends the Council dismissed that idea because it still wouldn’t raise enough money.
The North Las Vegas Police Officers Association opted to file a grievance against the city. Union president Mike Yarter said it would most likely end in arbitration, where an arbitrator will decide if the city’s actions are legal. If either side chooses to appeal the decision, the process could last as long as two years.
On the other hand, the union representing police supervisors became the first to file suit against the city on June 14th. The union contends that “the city’s attempt to use its financial mismanagement to declare an emergency…is an unlawful attempt at breaching the NLVPSA’s labor agreement through a mechanism of statutory misinterpretation when the city could not obtain its desired results through good faith bargaining.” They want the court to force the city to “completely honor” its agreements with the union. In addition, they want damages representing any losses incurred by union members, plus interest, and attorney’s fees.
“Everybody in the city is basically using all their time and all their effort to try to break the unions,” said Sgt. Leonard Cardinale, president of the NLVPSA.
Perhaps it’s a worthwhile effort. This chart, courtesy of transparentnevada.com, reveals the staggering level of compensation provided to North Las Vegas employees. For example, Sgt. Cardinale currently receives a whopping $213,140.24 in total compensation for 2011. That represents an increase of $80,674.65 in compensation–since 2009.
Yet Sgt. Cardinale is hardly an isolated case. 393 city employees received a total of more than $150,000 in pay and benefits, while a full 1,920 workers received compensation above $100,000 per annum in 2011. Topping the list is Corrections Lieutenant Ricardo A. Bonvicin at a mind-boggling $525,223.90. Rae Ann McNeilly, Director of Outreach for Taxpayers United of America, contends that Mr. Bonvicin “will collect an estimated annual pension of $335,456,” further noting that his “estimated lifetime pension payout is a staggering $15,961,017.”
And while Mr. Bonvicin is the top of the food chain, the fact remains that North Las Vegas government union workers have long been among the highest compensated government employees in southern Nevada. The average salary and benefits for a North Las Vegas Police Officers Association member totals $136,000. Supervisors receive $186,000 in total compensation. An International Association of Firefighters Local 1607 member gets salary and benefits that total $139,000. Topping it all off, the city covers 100 percent of healthcare insurance premium costs and 100 percent for all union members’ retirement contributions.
Unsurprisingly, Mayor Shari Buck characterized the invocation of a fiscal emergency as one necessary to “rescue our city from financial ruin.” The resolution is scheduled to take effect on July 1st. Whether it does or not may be up to the courts, or the state, which could decide to step in and run its fourth largest city. In the meantime, two realities cannot be ignored. First, legal definitions notwithstanding, North Las Vegas is indeed a “disaster area.” Second, union intransigence in the face of fiscal calamity is unseemly. It is an unseemliness based on another immutable reality:
You can’t get blood from a stone.
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