Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Leaders of cities and counties throughout Nevada gathered in Henderson Wednesday afternoon to discuss how they can respond to Nevada’s changing political and financial landscape.
The Local Government Summit focused particularly on three laws passed by the state Legislature this year that will set the stage for discussions regarding the state’s taxation and government structures expected in the 2011 session.
The scramble in this year’s legislative session to address the state’s massive budget shortfall left many local officials feeling that legislators acted in ways that hampered local governments — an occurrence the local officials hope to avoid in 2011 through better organization and communication.
“This is an historic occasion because I don’t know that in Nevada we’ve ever had a meeting with so many different city and county leaders in the same room,” Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen said at the summit’s outset.
Hafen said the Legislature deserved credit for confronting a difficult challenge in a timely manner, but future decisions at the state level need to be made with more awareness of the challenges faced by local governments.
“Local government budgets have been decimated,” he said. “I personally know this is the first time in my 22 years here that we’ve had to actually make cuts to city services and personnel.”
The group discussed three measures the Legislature has mandated be completed prior to its next session in 2011: a study of how the specific duties of state and local governments can be more clearly delineated; a study of the state’s tax structure and how it can be stabilized; and a mandate that local government bodies in Clark and Washoe counties examine how they can consolidate the services they provide.
Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she hoped the summit would replace the adversarial tone that dominated interactions between state and local officials in the past legislative session with a spirit of working together.
“I think part of what I hope comes out of this is that it’s no longer an us-versus-them mentality,” Giunchigliani said. “An elected official is an elected official is an elected official, and we need to find a common ground that best serves the needs of our constituents.”
When discussion turned to the state’s tax structure study, the officials were told that one of the study’s primary goals is to examine the quality of life for Nevada residents and suggest ways it could be improved by shifting priorities.
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman suggested that any discussion of quality of life issues needs to start at the local level. Local government officials should be meeting face-to-face with legislators in the coming months make that point, he said.
“We provide the services that form the quality of life, for all intents and purposes,” Goodman said. “We’re the ones that pave the streets, put up the traffic lights and build the parks that do so much to determine what the quality of life will be.”
The final issue discussed was the mandate issued to Clark and Washoe counties and their cities to conduct a study to find opportunities for consolidating locally provided services.
Las Vegas Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian said consolidation is possible, but it would require concessions and collaboration from all parties involved.
“Getting to those big things takes tiny steps,” Tarkanian said. “If we all throw out our egos and don’t get caught up with who has more authority here or there, we can truly accomplish something for our citizens.”
Nevada Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, was one of several state legislators in the audience for the summit.
Stewart said issues of jurisdiction, tax structures and consolidation have been discussed in Nevada for several years, but the current economic climate has added an unprecedented sense of urgency for strides to be made.
“Everyone’s trying to save money, and I think that (the economy) does put a greater emphasis on these issues, a greater need,” Stewart said.
Hafen said he felt the summit achieved its goal, which was to get local officials together, alert them to upcoming issues and get some ideas for how to face them. Now, he said, it will be up to each jurisdiction to return home and come up with a plan that will best suit the need of its citizens.
“I feel really good about this,” Hafen said. “There was some great networking done, and we had great representation from around the state.”