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To the list of the nation's summer disasters including floods, fires, and drought you can add a $30 million budget hole in North Las Vegas, Nevada.
Using a state law that highlights natural disasters and other unforeseen circumstances, North Las Vegas city leaders, prohibited from declaring bankruptcy, unanimously decided last month to declare their own state of fiscal emergency. The unprecedented move has drawn mixed reviews from town residents and a lawsuit from police brass who claim the novel twist on what makes for an emergency is nothing more than an attempt by conservative activists to bust their union.
"We've balanced our budget, we've paid all of our bills [and] all of our bonds are paid," Mayor Sharon Buck recently explained before addressing a community meeting to go over North Las Vegas' finances. "Our biggest issue is salaries and compensation and benefits. And they're very unsustainable. We can't continue to do what we've done in the past."
Beyond cutting staff at city hall and closing the jail, the emergency declaration allowed Buck and the council to save millions of dollars by freezing all scheduled salary hikes and overtime opportunities owed city workers under collective bargaining contracts. Eighty percent of the city's budget goes to paying its workers and rather than laying off police officers and firefighters, the city declared an emergency allowing for the suspension of union agreements.
The creative path to a balanced budget hasn't gone over well with everyone. "They're claiming a financial disaster but they're using a natural disaster to try and break the contracts," said North Las Vegas Police Supervisors Association President Len Cardinale. His group has filed a lawsuit against the city challenging the emergency declaration. "They don't believe in supporting unions. They support downsizing, outsourcing, privatization, combining of services. That is a typical right-wing philosophy. And what I see is, for whatever reason, the mayor and city council have adopted a right wing philosophy."