Las Vegas Sun

April 20, 2014

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Might NLV need to lean on Las Vegas for help?

Steve Ross

Steve Ross

The last visitor any city wants knocking on its door is the state Taxation Department.

It means the city can’t balance its budget. It means the state might step in and fix the budget itself. In short, it means the city hasn’t done its job.

So guess who’s coming to North Las Vegas tonight?

Taxation.

Three North Las Vegas City Council members last week asked Taxation officials to explain what could happen if North Las Vegas doesn’t act fast to eliminate a deficit of about $30 million and the state has to step in.

When Taxation intervenes — and there are more than a dozen triggers for that to happen — it opens the door to almost any means necessary to fix a municipality’s finances. The scenarios aren’t pretty: Cutting staff. Raising taxes. Nullifying union contracts.

So is there any good that comes from North Las Vegas’ fiscal problems?

There is, if you support the idea of shared services or consolidation of municipalities. If you’re of that mind-set, the specter of Taxation could be seen as a hard shove in that direction.

“We all want to see ... North Las Vegas survive,” said Steve Ross, who sits on the Las Vegas City Council.

But he adds, “I look at things 10 to 20 years down the road … and we have to start thinking outside the box.”

Ross makes no secret that when the economy allows it, he’d like to see Las Vegas expand its boundaries. It is landlocked by North Las Vegas, Clark County, federal land and the Paiute Indian Reservation. It has a narrow corridor along U.S. 95 to the northwest through which it might avoid leapfrog development by squeezing utilities through that passageway to a larger swath of land.

Future Las Vegas growth, however, would undoubtedly be easier if it had North Las Vegas’ access to the northeast corridor on either side of Interstate 15 toward Mesquite and Utah.

Doesn’t that make the idea of consolidation with North Las Vegas too juicy to ignore?

“With consolidation, you also take on (its) financial problems,” Ross said. Consolidation needs the Legislature’s approval; contracts are typically renegotiated; district boundaries might be redrawn.

Those difficulties coupled with pride — what city official wants to go down as being at the helm when his city dissolved? — are likely why so few communities consolidate. Even today, as Nevada and the rest of the country grow weary of the Great Recession, budget woes are not being solved through consolidation.

Last year, voters opposed a merger of Memphis, Tenn., and surrounding Shelby County. Although facts about consolidation nationwide vary, the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce reported that of 3,069 U.S. municipalities, just 35 are consolidated. (The first consolidation occurred in New Orleans in 1805; the most recent involved Louisville, Ky., and Jefferson County in 2003. The Wall Street Journal reported in June that since 1902, only 27 of 105 proposed city-county consolidations have taken place.

Moreover, municipalities are still seeking a definitive answer to the question of whether consolidations save money.

So maybe wholesale municipal consolidation is a distant likelihood.

Consolidating just a few services, though, isn’t the easiest, either.

Two years ago, then-Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid and others brainstormed ways to save money, including consolidating several county services with other municipalities. These included business licensing, comprehensive planning, animal control/administrative services, fire departments, parks and information technology.

Although Clark County and Las Vegas are sharing a few fire department services to cut back on overtime costs, merging entire departments is still a ways down the road. (A county spokesman said Tuesday the county’s information technology people are working with other municipalities on a pilot program for merging business licensing services.)

For their part, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas in February listed ways they could save money, including sharing street maintenance, workers’ compensation, safety, purchasing, radio maintenance, jail and code-enforcement programs.

Other services were tagged for future analysis, including animal control and licensing, street sweeping, business licensing, emergency dispatching, golf course operations and government lobbying services.

A consultant estimated combining such services could save the cities $4.2 million to $5.6 million annually.

“With a combined population close to 800,000, covering 200 square miles, the size of the two cities provides opportunities for economies of scale,” the report said. However, it adds, “service sharing is a process that requires communication, patience and the courage to provide public services in a new way.”

Or maybe a good dose of fear, which just the words “Taxation Department” can instill.

“We’re really working with them on this,” said Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth of the North Las Vegas city manager’s office. “We’d like to remain our own city.”

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  1. The state can't balance its own budget and it actually threatens to take over NLV for the same reason??

    Pot, meet Kettle...

    "I heartily accept the motto, 'That government is best which governs least'; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically." -- Henry David Thoreau 1849 "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience"

  2. It's time to consolidate. To see money spent on local municipalities suing each other is crazy. Most people in the valley look at this as a region, not individual political turfs. As we've seen, we rise and sink as a region, none of us is isolated by communities. It's time our government reflects that reality.