Las Vegas Sun

August 30, 2014

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Library district requesting six new branches

After finally tossing to voters a nagging political hot potato -- the proposed children's hospital -- another pricey proposal will be presented to Clark County commissioners Tuesday.

During a public hearing Tuesday, Las Vegas-Clark County Library District officials will pitch their request for a $73.9 million bond issue to build six new libraries over an eight-year period.

The same proposal will be presented to the Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday.

Dan Walters, executive director of the Library District, said the decision to pursue a bond issue for new facilities came after extensive studies that included telephone surveys of library users. The studies showed residents in newer communities do not have close access to a library.

"Our primary intention was to understand how we can improve services to our residents without kidding ourselves that the county, as everybody knows, has one of the steepest growth curves in the nation," Walters said of the district's attempt to balance its services as best it can.

Unlike the $80 million tax-neutral children's hospital bond question that will be presented to voters in June, the library bond will raise property tax rates in the valley.

For some entities, it means tax rates will exceed 90 percent of the state's tax rate cap of $3.64 per $100 assessed value. Government entities try to reserve the last 10 percent for emergencies.

While tax rates in most Clark County districts are well below the cap, Las Vegas' rates are already above 90 percent of the rate cap. And that concerns Las Vegas officials, especially those representing growing areas where future needs are uncertain.

Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lynette Boggs McDonald, who sits on the Debt Management Commission, which makes the final ruling on bond requests, said two-thirds of her ward has yet to be built.

Compounding her fears are the poor sales tax revenues the valley experienced during the a slow fourth quarter in 2000.

"There are a lot of public safety needs," Boggs McDonald said. "When you have limited resources, you have to triage and decide where you allocate the funds."

Overseeing growing areas means setting priorities, she said. Topping the list are necessities such as police, firefighters and infrastructure. Next are amenities governments provide if they have the money, such as parks. Then there is the category where libraries fall.

"There are things that are nice to have, but when push comes to shove, you can do without," she said. "I put libraries in that category."

Because the bond would push some entities over the 90 percent mark of the tax rate cap, the Debt Management Commission is permitted to look not only at the valley's finances but weigh public need in making its decision.

But Walters believes the Library District has a solid argument backing its request.

He said each library should serve a 2 1/2-mile radius. While that radius holds in established neighborhoods, residents in the valley's newer communities have to travel at least three miles to visit a library.

"What is an issue in the community is equity," Walters said. "Where you have a new population, we have a lot of tax revenue coming in and no access to libraries."

Under state stature, the Library District is only permitted to place a bond question on the ballot during the November election in even years and during the June election on odd years.

Walters said it takes 30 months to design and build a single library, and if he waited until November 2002 to request a bond, the community wouldn't see a new facility until 2005.

The six proposed libraries would be built at Town Center near Durango Drive and Tropical Parkway, at Sunrise Acres, in Lone Mountain West near Alexander and Craig roads, Summerlin South at Flamingo and the Beltway and at Compass Point at Windmill and Rainbow.

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