- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) - A judge has sided with North Las Vegas police and firefighter unions in a ruling, saying the cash-strapped city couldn’t get out of certain contract obligations by declaring a “fiscal emergency.”

In the 15-page ruling Tuesday, District Judge Susan Johnson said the city had no right to freeze $25 million in pay raises owed to union employees under agreements signed during the headier financial times of the mid-2000s.

The raises were first suspended in June 2012, when the city declared a fiscal emergency in an effort to close a $30 million budget gap. The freeze was renewed in August.

Johnson ruled the move was unconstitutional, adding that unless there were riots or natural disasters, declaring a state of emergency because of budget problems was “not a valid exercise of (the city’s) police power.”

City leaders previously predicted that allowing the raises would spell disaster for North Las Vegas. An official statement released late Tuesday took a more optimistic tone.

“While we are weighing our legal options, we are committed to working with our partners to solve the challenges facing North Las Vegas,” recently elected Mayor John Lee said in a statement. He added that the city’s “new spirit of cooperation and commitment to solving historic problems will be tested as we work out these challenges.”

Union leaders said after the decision that they’re willing to negotiate with the city.

“We understand the city’s not doing well financially,” Mike Yarter, president of the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association, told the Las Vegas Sun. “We just want them to honor what we have in place and sit down at the table with us. I think we can reach middle ground.”