Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2017

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State committee denies North Las Vegas money transfer

A state committee on local government temporarily turned aside a request by financially-troubled North Las Vegas for access to an additional $4.3 million for its budget this fiscal year.

The Committee on Local Government Finance told North Las Vegas officials Tuesday it wanted to see a plan that would eventually solve the city's money problems. Committee members also said residents should be informed that more than 30 percent of their water and sewer fees are being spent on such things as police and fire protection.

Committee member Mary Walker told city officials she wants to see a plan to stop diverting the sewer and water fees to the general fund. "I don't see a plan for long term financial stability," she said.

Reno City Manager Andrew Clinger, who is also a committee member, said the residents should be informed their sewer and water fees are being diverted. "It's only fair to the ratepayers to know where these funds are going."

A bill in the 2013 Legislature permitted the city to use more money from the sewer and water fees to balance their budget. The city is now taking an annual $32 million from the sewer and water account to balance its budget.

City officials asked the local government committee for permission to take another $4.3 million from the account.

But the local government committee declined, saying the law requires it must receive an audit of the fiscal year 2013 city finances that won't be available until October or November.

Committee Chairman Marvin Leavitt said the law was clear that the audit must be available before it could act on the $4.3 million request.

City officials disagreed with Leavitt saying it qualified to get the money now. City Attorney Jeffrey Barr said there were "serious constitutional questions" on whether the committee could tell the city how to spend its money.

Barr said the intent of the Legislature was to help the city out this fiscal year.

Mayor John Lee told the committee the city was "living hand to mouth" and is in "an emergency situation."

To save money, Lee said the city council is considering consolidating libraries, asking its lobbyists to work pro bono and requiring the council to approve any new hirers instead of permitting city officials employ new workers.

The city is also looking at what buildings can be sold and instead renting space.

The mayor agreed with the committee's suggestion that residents should be informed that their sewer and water fees are being shifted to support general government. He said negotiations with police and firemen over salary disputes were going well.

The mayor indicated he agreed with the ruling of Leavitt that the city would get the audit completed and then seek approval of the added $4.3 million.

Leavitt said the local government committee would schedule a meeting as soon as the audit is available.

The 2013 law allows a local government to dip into utility funds if their ending balance is below nine percent. But the Local Government Committee on Finance must approve any transfer.

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