AG rules disaster money can be used for fires | NevadaAppeal.com
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AG rules disaster money can be used for fires

The attorney general’s office issued an opinion that could help the state avoid a special legislative session to pay for the upcoming fire season.

The opinion says the governor could access the Disaster Relief Account to cover costs of a bad fire season, according to a letter from Assistant Attorney General Randal Munn to Director of Administration Andrew Clinger.

Clinger requested the opinion because once the Interim Finance Committee pays existing bills, the IFC Contingency Fund – the money set aside for emergencies when the Legislature is out of session – will be broke. And legally, the only way to replenish that account is for the Legislature to put more money into it – which would require a special session if the funds were needed before February 2007.

Munn pointed out the definition of disaster as applied to that account includes fires and authorizes the governor to provide grants or loans to state agencies to cover the cost of “any emergency measures undertaken to save lives, protect public health and safety or protect public property.”

In order to spend the estimated $9.2 million in that fund, the governor would need a vote from the Board of Examiners – made up of himself, the attorney general and secretary of state – and approval of the legislative Interim Finance Committee.

A special session could be necessary anyway if fire expenses exceed the $9.2 million in the disaster relief account, but Clinger said the opinion at least gives the state some breathing room.

Fires have become increasingly expensive in recent years. The Waterfall Fire along Carson City’s west side two years ago cost more than $8 million by itself.

In addition, Clinger said the law firm hired to handle the litigation over construction of the Southern Nevada Veteran’s Home has agreed to wait until the Legislature convenes next year for full payment.

Senn Meulemans will be paid half the $514,321 for work on the case. Under the agreement, the firm will receive $21,767 in interest for waiting to collect the second half of the money. That works out to an interest rate of about 9 percent.

That will leave more than $260,000 in the statutory contingency fund.

The 2005 Legislature put about $12 million in the fund. But unanticipated increases in utility costs – which have gone up by double-digit percentages in the past year – and skyrocketing gasoline prices forced the state to spend all but $3.3 million. Once requests for that money from the Department of Corrections, attorney general and other agencies are approved at the June 13 IFC meeting, Clinger said the account will be all but empty except for the money owed Senn Meulemans.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.