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July 31, 2015

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Budget-strapped Las Vegas hunts for ways to boost revenues

With Las Vegas facing another year in the red, the city council started a discussion Wednesday on ways to increase revenues to help balance the budget.

The issue: Chief Financial Officer Mark Vincent made a presentation to the council on ways to increase revenues to address the budget deficit in the upcoming fiscal year.

The vote: The item was a report only and no action was taken by the council.

What it means:

City council members will have some revenue-enhancing options to consider when they hold their budget hearing on May 21.

The city’s tentative budget for next year projects a $1 million deficit, which doesn’t include any employee salary increases or an expected $10 million request from Metro Police to help stem its own budget shortfall.

This will be the sixth year the city has faced a budget deficit, Vincent said, and continued cuts have reduced staffing to their lowest level in a decade while service and maintenance levels continue to decline.

Vincent highlighted several areas where the city could possibly bring in more money to its general fund.

Several bills in the Legislature — including a sales tax increase to help fund Metro and a bill that would allow the city to raise the gas tax with inflation — could provide added revenue, Vincent said.

The city will also look at increasing fees for services including municipal court, business licensing and parking.

Property taxes are another area where the city could raise revenue, but there are statutory restrictions that would prevent a large increase, Vincent said.

Staff will also audit franchise agreements with utility providers to make sure the city is receiving its fair share of the proceeds and they will examine collection practices to maximize revenue from parking tickets, court fines and other debts owed to the city, he said.

“Cutting often is the classic response … certainly we did that,” Vincent said. “It’s an arrow in the quiver. But it can’t be the only one.”

With the council’s blessing, Vincent will begin meeting with department heads to find the most effective ways to increase revenues and present the best options to them on May 21.

“It’s not raising fees and taxes for the sake of raising them. It’s about what makes sense,” he said.

The council acknowledged the difficult cuts the city has had to make over the last several years and seemed supportive of discussing other ways of balancing the budget.

“I absolutely believe we have to be innovative to look at as many revenue sources (as possible),” Mayor Carolyn Goodman said. “People generally don’t like to hear the words ‘increase taxes’ and ‘increase fees’ … so where are the funds going to come from? You can’t sacrifice what the public is expecting.”

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