Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2014

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State construction budget feels the squeeze

Installing a boiler at the state women's prison in North Las Vegas to ensure inmates get hot water and transferring a prison death chamber from Carson City to Ely were two of the projects that initially survived deep cuts in the state's proposed construction budget for the coming two fiscal years.

Agencies submitted requests for 201 projects costing $528 million in state and other funds, and the staff of the state Public Works Board sliced that to 82 projects costing $127 million.

And there may be more reductions coming as the state financial picture is only starting to improve a little.

As an example, the state Department of Motor Vehicles wants to use highway funds to construct a new building at its Sahara Avenue site in Las Vegas. State Budget Director Jeff Mohlenkamp said the highway fund is "not as flush as it used to be" and there may not be money available.

Board member Roy Walker said state agencies have been "robbing" the highway fund, which departments had considered a "slush fund."

The board will return Sept. 18 to make its final recommendations to the governor. Most of the projects recommended are for deferred maintenance. Walker said the state doesn't have the money "but the problem of maintenance is overwhelming" in buildings that have been neglected.

For instance, there is a recommendation for $2.5 million to replace an access bridge in Caliente at the boys' detention center. Board Manager Gus Nunez said there is only one access point and if there is a flood "the kids have to be evacuated by helicopter."

At the Florence McClure Women's Prison, water heaters were installed 15 years ago, and if they are not replaced they will fail and leave inmates without hot water. That will cost an estimated $1.1 million.

Although the last execution in Nevada was in 2006, the death chamber at the closed Nevada State Prison in Carson City would be moved to the maximum security prison in Ely. Mohlenkamp said prison officials have told him there would be real problems in carrying out an execution at the chamber in Carson City.

It would cost an estimated $692,289 to remodel the courtroom and visiting area in Ely so inmates could be put to death by lethal injection.

As recommended by the staff of the works board, 42 percent of the $127 million would go to the prison to do such things as replacing locks and security lighting. The second largest amount — 28 percent — would be ticketed for the state Department of Administration for rehabilitation and repairs on state buildings.

The third largest amount of $19 million is ticketed for the university system, but it has other sources of revenue.

Mohlenkamp said he doesn't know yet how much money will be available. The state in the past used to issue bonds and pay those off with its share of the property tax. But the property tax is now exhausted, he said.

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