Las Vegas Sun

October 13, 2015

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Laughlin voters to be asked if they want to become their own city


Justin Bowen

Laughlin and Bullhead City, Ariz., as seen in 2011.

Laughlin voters will be asked in June whether their town should become Nevada’s newest city, after a legislative panel decided today to place a question on the ballot.

Lawmakers moved forward with the proposal despite a state report finding an incorporated Laughlin would immediately operate in the red.

Lawmakers tried to allay concerns that the rest of the state would have to subsidize the city of 7,500 by saying incorporation could be delayed or halted during the 2013 Legislature.

A state law passed last year required the state’s Legislative Commission or Clark County Commission to evaluate whether incorporation made financial sense. After a Nevada Department of Taxation report found that the city did not make financial sense, the Legislative Commission punted last month and the Clark County Commission rejected the proposal.

Proponents of making Laughlin a city disputed the state’s study, and predicted it could find significant savings in police and fire salaries, while maintaining services for the community.

Most importantly, perhaps, Nevada’s entire federal delegation threw its support behind the Colorado River town on the Arizona border voting on its future status, where residents say they want local control so they can better manage development, including a massive solar manufacturing facility planned for the area.

“We’re excited the legislative commission chose to make the decision they did,” said David Floodman, president of the Laughlin Economic Development Corporation, which supports incorporation.

Democrats from urban areas, in particular, had resisted signing off on the financial soundness of incorporation. Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said she wanted the findings of the Department of Taxation study published in newspapers before the vote.

The report concluded that taxes might have to be raised and services cut if Laughlin is incorporated. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, who chaired the meeting, supported that disclosure in ballot question arguments.

Kirkpatrick also said she would be willing to submit a bill to stop incorporation if it doesn’t make financial sense. “I need a fallback, so we can put that horse back in the gate,” she said.

State Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, who lobbied to allow the vote, said, “if it doesn’t work, it will fall under its own weight.”

He told Kirkpatrick: “You and I will decertify this community.”

Floodman said that a new city plans have a fully staffed fire department and police department.

The new city would not include the casinos, the best-known area of town. But Sue Lowden, a former state senator who owns the Pioneer Hotel and Casino in Laughlin with her husband, said her business would want to join the city and she supported incorporation.

Rather than going to the Clark County Commission for approval to change building plans, she said she’d rather work out issues with the local mayor and city council.

Some Laughlin residents opposed the incorporation.

James Vincent called it “reckless and irresponsible.”

Herm Walker said the state study noted it was not fiscally feasible. “We’re going to have increased taxes for diminished services. Who ever advocated paying more for receiving less?”

At the previous meeting, Walker raised the possibility that ENN Mojave Energy LLC, which is planning the $6 billion solar facility, could ask for tax breaks from a fledgling city council and mayor.

Floodman acknowledged that could happen.

“There could be some negotiations on taxes paid initially,” he said.

But he said the company principals “see themselves as a partner in whatever is created here.”

ENN has remained neutral on the incorporation question.

The vote will go before Laughlin residents on June 12th. If successful, voters will select four city council members and a mayor in November.

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