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July 27, 2017

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New council members wary of $21 million gift for Henderson museum

Space and Science Center Board Meeting (6-23-2009)

Board President James B. Gibson listens to a speaker Tuesday during the Henderson Space and Science Center Advisory Board meeting. Launch slideshow »

The new-look Henderson City Council is trying to hold on to the $21 million that the previous council promised the board trying to build a space and science center -- at least until the money is needed.

An amendment to the gift agreement approved earlier this month, which would allow the city to keep the money and earmark it for the center, has been posted for Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The agenda item states that interest on the money could still be used to fund the advisory board’s annual budget, which must be approved by the City Council.

The item also states that the city would be able to use that money on other expenditures in the event of an emergency.

In their last meeting June 9, former Henderson Mayor James B. Gibson and former Councilman Jack Clark led a controversial initiative to take the money from the city’s land fund and give it to the board, which estimates it will need $61 million to build the center.

Gibson serves as the board’s volunteer chairman; Clark is the volunteer vice-chair. They were joined by Councilwoman Gerri Schroder in the 3-2 vote that authorized the gift; Councilmen Andy Hafen and Steve Kirk opposed it.

Now that Gibson and Clark have moved on, Hafen, who is now mayor, and Kirk are joined by Clark’s successor, Kathleen Boutin, in arguing that it is in the city’s interest to maintain control of the money until the advisory board is in a position to use it.

“I just got a lot of feedback that there wasn’t a lot of support out there in the community to transfer that money,” said Hafen, who requested the agenda item.

After all the city’s budget cuts over the last year and use of its rainy-day fund, the land fund is the last significant fund the city has left for emergency needs, Hafen said. Should the city have an emergency such as a failed computer mainframe, he said, there would be no money to replace it.

Though by law the land fund money can’t be use to cover payroll or budget shortfalls, it can be used for purchasing or replacing physical assets and constructing major infrastructure projects.

“If there’s any emergencies that come up, we don’t have any money to pay for a capital expense,” he said.

Hafen stressed that the city would only spend the land fund money in the event of an emergency, and that it will otherwise be earmarked to go to the space and science center. The city will use portions of the land fund’s $25.2 million total to fund the operations of the advisory board in the meantime, Hafen said.

Hafen said his support for the center’s overall concept remains strong.

“I want the residents to know that I think that this is a great idea; I think it can be something that this community can be proud of,” he said. “I think it’s something that will bring tourists to Henderson and, if done right, it can be a source of economic development for the entire city.”

Gibson and Clark couldn’t be reached for comment on Tuesday. Prior to the June 9 vote, they said giving the money to the board up front would allow it to immediately begin preparing the proposed site, located at U.S. 95 and Galleria Drive, and invest the money in order to use the interest for the project as well.

Clark at the time acknowledged that there are other ways the city could spend the money, but said none would match the long-term impact that the science center would have on the community -- both in terms of the educational opportunities it would offer and the economic benefits of the mixed-use campus the city envisions around the center.

“We must see beyond the immediate needs of a select few and look to the future for a return on an investment that in the end will be very small,” he said.

Hafen said he has spoken with Gibson and former City Attorney Shauna Hughes, who also sits on the board. Although the two sides don’t see eye to eye on this issue, he said they remain cordial and he does not anticipate the relationship between the City Council and the board becoming adversarial.

“I think they see where I’m coming from, but they still think the space and science museum has a better chance if it has that money now,” Hafen said.

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