Sunday, March 21, 2010 | 2 a.m.
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With the back and forth on the salaries, benefits and sick leave of Clark County firefighters as a backdrop, the Fire Department is seeking the support of the Clark County Commission to raise inspection fees.
Why is there a need to raise fees?
The existing fees don’t cover the department’s costs.
But aren’t the number of inspections decreasing with the decline of the economy and commercial and residential construction?
It’s true that plans being submitted are down, and associated inspections are down, too. But the department must still recoup costs of doing mandated inspections. Girard Page, senior deputy fire chief, said for many years “staff was so limited, we had to rely on contractor-paid overtime to meet the demand.” Some inspections were deferred or delayed. Some plans took as long as 14 weeks to complete.
Now with demand down, the staff is full enough to meet demands, but the department lacks the funding to support that staff.
In a Fire Department presentation, this example was given: The cost to inspect fire sprinkler systems is $135 an hour for a new property with 600 sprinklers. (The $135, Page said, covers salaries, benefits, capital, vehicles, vehicle repairs and gas.) It takes 17 hours for plans’ checks and inspections, which can take multiple reviews and site visits. Total cost: $2,533; total money collected: $625. Net loss: $1,908.
Multiply that many times over and you end up with what happened in fiscal year 2009, when expenses exceeded revenue by $423,000. The deficit was covered by money from the county’s general fund.
What are some of the fee changes being proposed?
There are dozens. Some increases would be so high that we hear casino properties might be stirring to keep them down.
The county currently charges a variable rate for the inspection of exhibits at trade shows. It ranges from $75 for 4,500-14,999 square feet to $225 for 75,000 square feet and up.
The new fees would start at $270 for a covered or multistory, temporary booth. For other exhibits, there would be a standard 2/10th-of-a-cent per square foot charge. And if plans come in at least nine days ahead of time, the cost would be $338; if plans are in five to nine days ahead of time, it’s $676; two to four days ahead, $1,014; and less than two days ahead, $1,352.
Isn’t that 2/10th of a cent charge kind of small?
Not when you’re talking millions of square feet of convention space.
Is this going to be an easy sell?
It’s hard to say. But many meetings are likely to be held among Fire Department administrators, county staff and businesses before a proposal is presented to county commissioners.
Did the commissioners approve that contract with low-bidder American Graffiti to remove graffiti from the Strip and several neighboring blocks?
Not yet. During last week’s commission meeting, questions arose about American Graffiti’s previous contract and whether the company should be required to pay “prevailing wages,” — wages and benefits set by the Labor & Industries Department.
Commissioner Steve Sisolak questioned why the bids were so much lower than previous bids. The company previously charged $11,033 per mile; this time, it is asking only $3,302 per mile.
Company representatives said the initial cleanup was labor intensive and the lower cost reflects the fact that much of the work will be maintenance.
Commissioner Tom Collins also asked if state law required the company to pay prevailing wages, even though county staff said they did not require bidders to include prevailing wages in their bids.
And Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani wanted a cost comparison to see if the county might be better off using its own workers to do the job.
What did they decide?
Commissioners postponed the decision until they met with company officials. The item will be reheard April 20.