Sunday, June 9, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Help has arrived for North Las Vegas from an unexpected source — its sewer and utility funds.
The Legislature passed a bill in the final moments of its special session on Tuesday that would allow the city to take money from its sewer and utility funds and use it to restore some dwindling city services. Money typically spent on sewer and utility projects could be used to bolster libraries, provide more overtime hours for firefighters and open Craig Ranch Park, which the city hopes will bring in additional revenue.
City spokesman Tim Bedwell said the bill, if it's signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval, would be the boost the city needs to recover from the recession. For the first time, North Las Vegas would be able to entertain the notion of adding services rather than cutting them.
“We think it’s very important, particularly this year,” Bedwell said. “We’re at a point now where the valley is coming out of a recession. North Las Vegas is lagging … probably because we were hit the worst. In order to get through this year and next year, we need the infusion from this sewer fund.”
Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, introduced the bill as an attempt to rescue the city from its dire financial situation.
For the past seven years, North Las Vegas has been decimated by lingering effects of the recession. The city’s economic growth had coincided with the real estate boom, and when that crashed, so did its economy. Thousands of homes were foreclosed upon — and remain empty — drying up the city’s tax revenue.
Meanwhile, labor wages and benefits have continued to rise, digging the city’s economic hole deeper. Last year North Las Vegas had a budget gap exceeding $30 million; this year it totaled $18 million.
To compensate it has had to cut services and staff. The list includes closing two public pools, slashing library hours, closing the North Las Vegas Detention Center and limiting overtime for firefighters, among other services. Little things such as maintaining the grass in parks or cleaning the bathrooms have become less regular, said Ken Kraft, vice chairman of the parks and recreation advisory board.
“The grass is browner; bathrooms are not cleaned as (often),” Kraft said of the park’s maintenance. “When the economic downturn started, (the city) talked about maintaining certain levels of services, but that’s gone out the window.”
“We’re at the point where we don’t have anything to cut anymore,” Bedwell said. “We’re at a situation where we’re looking at a safety net to carry us through the final bit of the recession.”
That is where Kirkpatrick’s bill comes in. City Manager Tim Hacker said it is projected to add about $4 million over the next four years should the city need it. It is not enough to close this year’s $18 million budget deficit, but it has the ability to immediately restore some services for residents.
Hacker said the city would look to use the resources to add overtime hours for firefighters, sustain the opening of Craig Ranch Park, reopen the public pools on a limited basis, restore library hours and pay salaries of 13 police officers. Some of the money would also be used to settle union lawsuits against the city after it declared a state of emergency to force concessions.
Marvin Leavitt, chairman of the local government finance committee, said his committee has overseen North Las Vegas throughout the economic malaise. He expects the bill to give the city a financial reprieve.
“There are limited resources they have on revenue side,” Leavitt said. “So far any adjustments they've had to make are on the expenditure side. This will allow them some leeway on the revenue side to offset this big deficiency they have.”
Bedwell hopes the bill is the lifeline the city needs to start recovery.