Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2014

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Looking in on: City Hall:

Thefts lead to blackouts and wasted tax dollars

Who knew copper wire would end up being the dream of the drug-addled or the purely criminal -- or the stuff of terrorism in Las Vegas.

That’s how one Metro Police officer, who did not want to be named, described the ongoing theft of copper wire from utility poles across the Las Vegas Valley.

“It’s a form of terrorism to turn the lights out on an entire street,” he said.

Because copper wire fetches upward of $3 a pound, thick copper wire that runs from light pole to light pole is being ripped away in lengths of hundreds of feet.

As described in a city document presented to the City Council last week, thieves will prep a utility or traffic light pole by unscrewing access plates at street level a day or two before the theft. They also make cuts to disconnect the heavy underground wire from the utility pole, sometimes on several adjacent poles. Then, usually a day later, they will attach the wire to a hook on a truck or car and rip it out.

This leads to problems such as neighborhood blackouts and traffic lights that won’t function. Because exposed wire is more valuable, insulation often is burned off the wire, releasing toxic fumes.

It’s become such a problem in Las Vegas that part of the city’s 2008 Legislative Agenda asks state and federal officials for $1 million to help replace the missing wire.

The city currently maintains four crews to replace the wire. The cost of materials replacement -- not including labor -- was $457,744 in 2007 alone. One year earlier, that cost was only $26,960.

The City Deputy Marshal Special Enforcement Team has worked with traffic engineers and others to stem the thefts. “However, the problem is so widespread and profitable for the thieves that these efforts have not had the impact desired,” the report says.

As a result, a multiagency task force, joining several Las Vegas Valley law enforcement groups, is to begin operation in February.

• • •

If Las Vegas government is open and available, is anyone paying attention?

In another report to the City Council that outlined how it was doing in “providing an open government which allows access, participation and respectful communication,” a racial divide was highlighted.

The report found that residents generally felt satisfied after interacting with Las Vegas governmental entities. Most people interact by telephone. In the past two years, however, there has been a 97 percent increase in the use of online tools to conduct city business.

In 2005, the city registered 96,295 online transactions. In 2007, that number grew to 190,167. At the same time, revenue from those online transactions has risen 410 percent, from about $1 million to $5.1 million.

Eighty percent of Las Vegas residents surveyed indicated they had Internet access at home.

More than 50 percent of those surveyed “regularly” watch KCLV, the local government-access channel. White viewers constituted almost 80 percent of KCLV’s viewers, with Hispanic, black, Asian American and Native American viewers making up the remaining roughly 20 percent.

• • •

In a bid to enhance Las Vegas’ reputation as a city that cares about sustainability, another legislative priority in 2008 will be to get $1 million in funding to help homeowners in older neighborhoods pay for upgrades to make homes more energy efficient.

The city is going to seek $500,000 more to create an Urban Forestry Program. Las Vegas is the largest Western city without such a program, a report to the City Council said.

The $500,000 would be used to plant more trees and to “support and encourage sustainability, livability and pride in our neighborhoods.”

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