Las Vegas Sun

August 20, 2014

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Declaring a disaster could save North Las Vegas millions, but what will it lose?

The nonprofit watchdog Disaster News Network has a “Hot Topics” page that covers technological threats, terrorism, public violence and pandemics, and its homepage recently linked to stories about the national heat wave, Colorado wildfires and deaths after two Chinese fireworks factories exploded. North Las Vegas isn’t in the mix, despite the city declaring itself a disaster area last week.

Contrarily, when you Google “how do cities declare financial disasters?” nearly every link leads to an AP story about North Las Vegas and its deficit-related state of emergency. City Manager Tim Hacker proposed the unprecedented application of an obscure Nevada statute, and the city council approved it as a way to suspend union contracts and salary increases (saving $9 million). The police union has already filed a suit claiming that the law is being misused, but there is speculation about whether this is just the first domino among struggling American cities.

Wearing a “Hello My Name is Disaster” name tag means you might get a bailout (ask Greece and anyone who bought a home in 2007). But it also means you get brutally devalued, and the stink of desperation—however temporary—lingers. North Las Vegas already contends with a reputation for mean streets, and declaring it can’t afford to keep them safe doesn’t bode well for attracting new revenue streams. The $9 million might save some jobs (and swim classes) today, but tomorrow may pay the price. As the saying goes, let she who has a better idea cast the first stone. So here’s to coming up short.

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