Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009 | 2 a.m.
After 40 years of wondering in the desert, we need not question how to save taxpayer money anymore.
I remember in the late 1960s those community leaders who thought past the next election and urged our community fathers in Las Vegas and Clark County to consolidate the city and county into one municipal government.
They argued that the difference in county services to the south of Sahara Avenue and city services to the north of Sahara were negligible. What was noticeable, they argued, was that the duplication of services resulted in millions of wasted taxpayer dollars.
Politics, of course, and preserving power bases ruled the day and nary a word was heard again until the late 1980s and early 1990s when, once again, those who thought ahead and who really cared about carefully spending our tax dollars urged a city-county consolidation. This time, though, the amount of money saved on a yearly basis was close to $23 million!
Again, what was good for the taxpayers was not good for those in the city and county who liked their little fiefdoms — consolidation would ultimately cost some of the city and county elected officials their coveted council seats — more than they respected their constituents.
And here we are today, some 40 years after the first discussions of proper government function, and the issue of consolidation is, once again, nowhere close to the minds of those who matter when such decisions must be taken.
Is and was consolidation a bad idea? Well, there are countless examples across the country that speak volumes about efficiencies of consolidated governments, providing better government services and lower costs.
The Denver metropolitan area was consolidated more than 100 years ago — and it works and works and works.
The people in Denver have redeveloped their downtown area into a major economic engine. They have built light rail transportation services that whisk workers from suburbs into the city center without so much as a stoplight to stand in their way.
In addition, they have built airports, roads, sports arenas and other infrastructure with regional needs in mind and used tax dollars from across the populated region to help lower individual burdens of the already burdened citizens. Pick just about any other city that has done the same and the results will be similar.
So, why now? Why talk about what the city and county folks and the forces of the status quo don’t want to talk about?
Because we are about to head off in a direction, at the single worst time in the economic history of our valley — a time when we can least afford a mistake of any kind — and no one in charge is even thinking about consolidation. I am.
This newspaper has long believed in consolidated government. As I look out of my office window in the southern part of the valley, homes and buildings sprout up as far as the eye can see. I can’t quite tell where Sahara Avenue is — without finding the Sahara hotel — because everything looks the same: the homes, the streets, the people. The simple fact is there is no difference except in the political boundaries that separate the city and the county.
I don’t blame Mayor Oscar Goodman for wanting to give an economic shot in the arm by leading a building boom in downtown Las Vegas. I don’t blame D. Taylor for making a hypocritical and silly deal that he thinks will advance the membership of the Culinary Union. I do, however, blame them both for being so shortsighted.
The last thing anyone outside of City Hall needs is another City Hall, especially one a stone’s throw from the Clark County Government Center!
If Goodman wants to create jobs and growth downtown, let him take the hundreds of millions of dollars a new building will cost and invest it in existing and new businesses that need money to grow and can’t get it. They will create new and lasting jobs in Las Vegas.
If Taylor wants to expand his union rolls, let him consider the tax burdens on working men and women that will result from a continued waste of tax dollars to pay for not only a new building but also the ongoing duplication of services that will continue way into the future.
In 1993 the money to be saved through consolidation was estimated to be $23 million a year. What do you think that number is today?
Taylor could boast to workers that he saved them thousands of dollars in taxes by supporting consolidation. They would gladly pay his union a few hundred dollars in dues in return for such stellar representation. Everybody wins!
Every businessperson in this valley has had to cut his workforce, shave his costs and go without because of the recession — a recession that has caused a depression throughout our city. A recession that was caused in great measure by fancy financing schemes and too-good-to-be-true pro formas based on hopes and dreams — none of which happened.
Is the city of Las Vegas the last to hear about our problems and how it happened?
I am not a person who has ever been credited with finding ways to save money. The opposite has largely been true. But I have learned something since the world collapsed and too many good people have had to lose their jobs and their businesses learning the same lesson.
And that is that you don’t spend money frivolously just because you can. And you certainly don’t spend taxpayer money needlessly just because the people aren’t paying attention.
We expect more from our elected officials. We expect them to act in our best interests every once in a while. Now would be one of those times.
Brian Greenspun is editor of the Las Vegas Sun.