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May 22, 2015

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Commissioner: North Las Vegas headed toward state takeover

Tom Collins

Tom Collins

Marilyn Kirkpatrick

Marilyn Kirkpatrick

CARSON CITY — North Las Vegas, once one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and a symbol of Nevada’s boom and sudden economic collapse, now faces the real possibility of vanishing as an independent entity, an elected official said Wednesday.

The financially struggling city, which is trying to renegotiate union contracts and sell assets such as its new city hall and wastewater treatment plant, will reveal the latest on its financial situation today to a state finance committee. If North Las Vegas continues to struggle, its financial operations could be taken over by the state.

The Legislature, which next is scheduled to convene in 2013, could ultimately “disincorporate” the city if it is unable to pay its bills. Were that to happen, it would join Gabbs, a rural former mining town, which was erased as a free-standing political entity by the Legislature in 2001.

Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, whose district includes much of North Las Vegas, said “disincorporation” is a last resort, but the city is headed in that direction. He has been told that the city’s financial problems will grow as the city’s debt load increases from expenses related to large public works projects begun at the end of the boom.

“Every day it’s more likely they’ll not continue operating,” Collins said. “I hate to say it and be the doomsday guy. But unless North Las Vegas wins big on the lottery or hits the Irish sweepstakes, I don’t know.”

Services for residents have already been cut, and property taxes are already the highest in Clark County, he said.

Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, stopped short of floating the possibility that North Las Vegas could be dissolved. Instead, she said, if the state takes over the city, the 2013 Legislature may consider allowing other entities, like Las Vegas, to annex parts of North Las Vegas or allow the consolidation of services like fire, police and parks.

North Las Vegas officials have defended the city and downplayed the possibility of the state taking over its finances.

As for disappearing altogether?

“I think we’re very far from that,” said Al Noyola, the city’s interim finance director, who added that, “It feels like the wolf pack is circling around a wounded entity.”

The city’s financial presentation to the state today is voluntary and informal, he noted. The city has consulted with state officials, but only to “bounce ideas” off them.

“We have some challenges in front of us. I’m not saying we don’t,” he said. “But we’ll get through it.”

“I think what’s occurring is there’s a lot of hype about what may or may not happen with city of North Las Vegas. It is hype stirred by the media, because politicians, not our council, are making statements that are not correctly presenting the state of the city of North Las Vegas,” he said.

Collins said he understands that longtime residents want to preserve their identity as a separate city. But police and fire services could be picked up by Clark County or Las Vegas, as well as services such as road repairs and graffiti removal.

“You’re down to core, essential services. How much do you compromise them to keep your identity?” Collins wondered.

Kirkpatrick, who chaired the Assembly Government Affairs and Taxation committees, said North Las Vegas officials testified in April that they would be able to balance their budget. The city is still short by almost $5 million for the fiscal year that began July 1, according to the city.

“They’re still not there. I don’t know what it takes to get them there, honestly,” Kirkpatrick said.

Projections for future years show even greater budget shortfalls.

“I know in the short term we can fix anything,” she said. “In the Legislature, we have to look at the long term.”

The city, she said, “never planned for a downturn. It always planned for growth.”

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