STATELINE — After listening to local government officials complain about a wide range of problems for more than two hours, Las Vegas Councilman Bob Coffin told his colleagues the problem is that the state has too much control over their finances and policies.
“The real issue is the lack of our control of our issues with the state,” he said.
Coffin urged those at the joint meeting of the Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities and the Nevada Association of Counties to schedule meetings before the start of the 2015 Legislature to discuss that issue and plot a strategy that will get them more local control — including over their finances.
Under the so-called Dillon’s Rule, local governments have little power to change or impose taxes, set their budgets and make policy. Those powers lie primarily with the Legislature.
The discussion on the final morning of the joint conference featured complaints from numerous local officials ranging from taxation and public lands policy to the homeless, mental health and child-welfare services.
Using its power, the Legislature, along with former Gov. Jim Gibbons followed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, essentially balanced budgets on the backs of local governments, making them pick up and pay for programs the state traditionally handled and taking away revenue from counties and cities.
Some of that damage was lifted this past session when, for example, the governor and lawmakers restored the Indigent Accident Fund to the counties.
After Coffin’s comments, a number of other local officials chimed in, calling for more local control.
“It’s important for local governments to weigh in on how we manage the tax system in this state,” said Carson City Mayor Robert Crowell.
“It all deals with the lack of revenue,” said Anita Wood of North Las Vegas.
Carole Vilardo of the Nevada Taxpayers Association told them that group’s recommendations to turn more control over to the locals have fallen on deaf ears.
“We have made recommendations, and I am as frustrated as you,” Vilardo said.
She said that amid discussions of a services tax this past session, the association wanted to create a technical advisory committee to determine which services to tax and how to do it. She said businesses support that because “what we want is the broadest-based, fewest exemptions, lowest rate possible.”
The bill, she said, died at the end of the 2013 Legislature.
Fernley’s Leroy Goodman said locals have proposed more home rule every legislative session.
“We couldn’t even get it out of committee,” he said. “That’s how the Legislature works. They literally ignore us.”
Coffin said that despite spending 28 years in the Nevada Assembly and Senate, he never understood “what kind of crap was going on” until he joined the city council. He said part of the blame falls on the local officials in the meeting room at the MontBleu Resort: “I never got calls from county or city officials.”
Las Vegas Councilman Steve Ross said Coffin is right that local governments need to meet and hammer out what’s important to them before the next session and push their needs to every available lawmaker.
“This needs to be the largest and most influential lobby group in Carson City,” he said, surveying the room. “Shame on me for not picking up a phone and calling a lawmaker and saying that bill is a bad idea for the city of Las Vegas.”
Jerrie Tipton of Mineral County said the city and county organizations should have a roundtable at least quarterly to talk about home rule, the tax structure and other such issues. That way, she said, they could have an organized strategy ready for the 2015 Legislature.
“It’s important for local governments to weigh in on how we manage the tax system in this state.”
— Robert Crowell
Carson City Mayor