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May 27, 2018

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Opponents line city council aisles to condemn call for annexation

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Yvonne Gonzalez

Residents line up on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, at a Las Vegas City Council special meeting to oppose city annexation of 10 Clark County islands. The move would cost the county $3 million.

Clark County could lose $3 million in revenue if Las Vegas moves forward with an annexation plan that dozens of residents opposed at a public hearing on Monday.

The city wants to annex 10 “islands” of unincorporated Clark County that are surrounded by Las Vegas. To block the plan, residents of these areas who represent ownership of 51 percent of the acreage and valuation of the properties had to register their opposition in person Monday, or in writing in the two weeks afterward.

It’s unclear when or how the city will announce the opposition tally. If opposed residents are unsuccessful in blocking the plan, the issue could come before the council as an ordinance.

City council members and residents discussed the balance of shared resources between Las Vegas and Clark County. Residents pointed out that there are many areas of overlap, such as city and county parks and that there are also city islands surrounded by county property.

In nearly four hours of public comment, with speakers generally limited to a couple of minutes each, residents said property taxes were a major concern. Property owners annexed into the city could pay about $150 more in taxes per $100,000 assessed valuation.

Councilman Bob Coffin said few people at the meeting would see property tax increases as high as $50 or more per year.

“There are some very wealthy people who would pay a lot more,” Coffin said. “They’re not here today, they’re letting you do the work for them.”

The county cannot block the annexation, but members of the commission have spoken out against the plan. County Manager Yolanda King has said the focus is on the impact on residents but that the annexation would mean millions lost in county revenue. Commissioner Lawrence Weekly spoke against the plan Monday as well as at a previous council meeting.

“This is a quality of life that people have bought into,” Weekly said Monday.

There was confusion on both sides about what annexation would change for residents in the 10 islands, such as shouldering the cost of sidewalks and street lamps. Mayor Pro Tem Lois Tarkanian said these improvements would only be made if residents wanted them, but some opponents shared personal anecdotes of unwanted infrastructure projects that cost homeowners.

University Medical Center is supported by county general fund revenues, according to the county. Residents pay county taxes regardless of whether they live on city land.

“Does that mean the residents of the city can’t go to the county hospital?” said resident Dave Harrison, a facilities engineer at Summerlin Hospital who has volunteered to spread awareness about the annexation proposal. “You keep saying, the county and the city, the county and the city, however, that hospital serves both the city and the county.”

Tarkanian told him that she thinks the city pays some money toward it also, but Clark County is unaware of any city of Las Vegas funding that supports the hospital.

Many residents asked that the council take more time and explore the balance of resources and services with the county. That message was echoed by Weekly and County Commissioner Larry Brown, who has also served as a Las Vegas city councilman. Brown said there are some circumstances where the case for annexation could be made, but that he does not support annexing the 10 islands all at once.

Brown said it’s true that most of the residents who would be annexed are in the 1.7 percent who pay the lowest property taxes in Southern Nevada. But, he said, he doesn’t know who would win if the brightest minds from the county and city were to sit down and have a fair-share debate.

“This is more of a city-county issue,” he said. “The burden shouldn’t be placed on these people, because it’s an undue burden. What they’ve had to do for close to six weeks is unfair.”

Tarkanian also pointed out the tax imbalance.

“Do you think it’s fair that you don’t pay the amount of tax that 98 percent of the rest of the county and the city do?” Tarkanian asked one speaker. “That that has gone on for about 40 years, that you have been subsidized?”

There were boos from the audience at that, and Coffin asked attendees not to be rude.

“We’re in a constant battle with the county not for new money, but to get what is owed us paid by you to them, but not to us, for a lot of your services,” Coffin said. “That’s something you may not be aware of but we live with. So just so you know this washes out in the end.”

As part of an agreement over election costs, the city in 2016 forgave $4 million in retroactive county debt related to a 1987 amendment to a shared services agreement. Some residents said Monday that the city and county need to solve the money issues on their end rather than forcing a new city code and property tax rate on residents.

The county does not require that people license their individual pets and pay a fee, but the city does. After complaints over the city's pet registration fee, Councilwoman Michele Fiore said she has two unlicensed dogs in the city.

“Just because there’s rules on the books doesn’t mean they’re enforced,” Fiore said.

Tarkanian, however, spoke up for the city’s code enforcement after Las Vegas resident Richard Manhattan shared his concerns about the city’s lack of maintenance. He said he wants the city to pay as much attention to city neighborhoods as it does to areas up for annexation.

“The sidewalks in my neighborhood, there’s grass growing everywhere,” he said. “No one’s coming out and spraying them with weed killer or requiring that the residents keep those sidewalks well-maintained.”

Tarkanian assured him there is enforcement taking place.

“I have someone who goes out once a week to go down the streets to see where we’re not taking care of the grass, and we turn it in to code enforcement,” she said. “We watch our little neighborhoods like hawks.”