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July 23, 2014

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Clark County Commission:

Recent history shows fuel tax increase anything but a done deal

Clark County commissioners will take up their second proposed tax increase in as many months Tuesday when they discuss whether to raise the levy on fuel.

In addition to debating the fuel tax, commissioners are expected to approve a new contract for outside legal counsel and more when they meet at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday at Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway.

Motoring toward a tax increase

The commission last month indefinitely tabled a request to increase the sales tax to hire more Metro Police officers, but the fuel tax could face an easier road to passage this week.

The proposal calls for the valley’s fuel tax, currently 52.5 cents per gallon of gasoline, to rise with inflation each of the next three years.

The increased tax, according to the county, would end up costing the average driver about an additional $52 per year once fully implemented, but transportation advocates say it will allow the Regional Transportation Commission to spend up to $700 million on more than 100 construction projects.

Without the increase the RTC, which receives a 9-cent share of the levy, says it will have enough money to build only five miles of paved new road each year.

Increasing the tax, which the county estimates would create 5,000 construction-related jobs, has the support of many business groups and seems to have the minimum five votes from commissioners it will need to pass.

However, the “More Cops” sales tax increase appeared to have enough support shortly before the push fell apart and commissioners tabled it, meaning the fuel tax increase is anything but a done deal.

Outside counsel

With the help of healthcare consultant Larry Gage, commissioners in July approved changes that will turn over most of their oversight of the financially challenged University Medical Center to an independent governing board.

The hospital paid Gage’s law firm, Atlanta-based Alston & Bird LLP, $20,000 for his initial work and report that helped the commissioners come to their decision.

On Tuesday, the commission is scheduled to approve a second contract that will engage the firm’s legal services as the hospital begins to navigate the transition to an independent board.

The $150,000 contract will be paid on an hourly rate, and although the hospital will receive a 20 percent discount on the partner rate, the costs are still high. Under the proposed agreement, which will likely pass as part of the commission’s consent agenda, partners would be paid $640 an hour for their work, associates $680 per hour and paralegals $170 per hour.

Leave your lasso at home

Horse roping has been the subject of fierce debate at each of the commission’s last three meetings, including a four-hour public comment and discussion at the Aug. 20 commission meeting.

All that debate has produced no changes to the county’s current ordinance, which forbids roping a horse by the legs in all instances. The ordinance conflicts with a state law allowing “catch and release” roping where animals are not intentionally tripped.

With the debate still unsettled, Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Tom Collins have proposed competing ordinances in an attempt to assuage both animal rights activists and supporters of charrerias, traditional Mexican-style rodeos that feature horse roping in several events.

One of those ordinances is scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday, but county staff already is warning the public the item won’t be discussed until at least October while commissioners plan a way forward on the issue.

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