Las Vegas Sun

July 28, 2015

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State: Reno wrong to support Southern Nevada in $62M battle

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CARSON CITY – Lawyers for the Legislature and the state attorney general’s office say the city of Reno is off base in its support of Southern Nevada governments who are trying to stop the state from taking $62 million in sewer collection fees.

The attorneys say Reno has failed to provide any “sound legal reasoning” why the Nevada Supreme Court should rule in favor of the Clean Water Coalition.

The coalition is composed of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson and the Clark County Water Reclamation District, which collected $62 million for sewer projects. The Legislature ordered the money to the state to help balance the budget.

Reno filed a Friend of the Court brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn the law adopted during a special session of the Legislature earlier this year. Reno said that if the court upholds this law, it could discourage local governments from forming coalitions to tackle problems.

Kevin Powers, senior principal deputy legislative counsel and C. Wayne Howle, solicitor general in the attorney general’s office, say the court must confine its consideration to whether the law is constitutional and not if it affects public policy.

“Even if a statute works a hardship on those who must comply with its commands, such a fact is irrelevant to the court’s constitutional inquiry,” said the Powers-Howle brief.

They said Reno cannot use the Supreme Court “to attack the policy, wisdom or expediency of the statute.”

Facing a major deficit, the Legislature ordered the Clean Water Coalition to turn over the $62 million to the state. It said the money was surplus.

The coalition has refused to transfer the money and the Supreme Court will decide who wins in the money tug-of-war. Oral arguments will be set later this year.

The coalition collected the money to build a pipeline to transport effluent from the local treatment plants to Lake Mead and to generate hydroelectric power from the effluent carried in the pipeline.

However, work on the project was suspended until 2012 due to the economic decline, lack of growth and current effluent treatment standards. The coalition maintains the $62 million is not surplus.

Reno is worried that the money transfer law could mean that local fees could be converted to state taxes.

The Powers-Howle brief said the Legislature had the constitutional power to enact the law even if it has “adverse public policy impacts as alleged by the city of Reno.”

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