Consolidation of valley government revisited

Las Vegas city officials on Wednesday again banged the drum in favor of consolidating local governments in Southern Nevada and said it might take a mandate from the Legislature to get Southern Nevada entities to do something that has been talked about for decades.

Mayor Oscar Goodman directed City Manager Betsy Fretwell to contact her counterparts in Clark County, Henderson and North Las Vegas, perhaps to set up a meeting of elected officials to discuss consolidation issues.

Goodman likes the idea of combining the entities into “one city” instead of four jurisdictions that he said end up competing with one another .

“Government isn’t working the way it should be working,” he said. “Let’s find out who does agree with us, who doesn’t agree with us,” which would help determine whether governments can start working together voluntarily or whether legislative involvement is needed.

Lawmakers required Washoe and Clark county governments, with the cities in those counties, to submit reports on consolidation by Sept. 1.

In Southern Nevada, consolidation of animal control, business licensing, information technology, cultural programming, purchasing, government television stations and a habitat conservation plan is being studied.

A business operating across the valley has to get four business licenses. Licensing could be made uniform across the three cities and Clark County, meaning a business would need one license and could get it from the most convenient local government, said Ted Olivas, Las Vegas’ director of administrative services.

Goodman also raised the specter of a terrorist attack or disaster when fire departments and police are split along jurisdictional lines.

“It would be like the tower of Babel,” he said. “It will be chaos if in fact something happens here.”

City Council members agreed up to a point but urged a cautious approach.

“My concern is, the larger bureaucracy becomes, the less efficient they are in helping our citizens,” Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian said.

But, she said, municipal elections should be held at the same time as general elections, instead of running the races separately in odd-numbered years.

Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese and Councilman Ricki Barlow also favored a slower approach.

“Maybe it’s not the entire city being consolidated,” Barlow said. “Maybe it’s just some things, when we can chip away at opportunities.”

Councilmen Stavros Anthony and Steve Ross favor consolidation, with Anthony saying it is “absolutely the right time” and Ross voicing disdain for dithering.

“It’s great to talk about it. But that’s all we’re doing,” Ross said. “Let’s not talk about it. Let’s get it done.”

Two candidates vying to replace Rory Reid on the Clark County Commission said they would consider consolidation.

Doug Bell, the Republican candidate for District G, weighed in with a statement Wednesday calling for the end of the “Balkanization of this community.”

“When I moved here in the late 1970s, there was a great deal of empty land between the various urban centers,” Bell wrote. “Today our communities are linked by homes and commercial establishments in a never-ending chain.”

He said consolidation efforts will need “strong encouragement” from the Legislature, the gaming sector and local businesses, “as generally it is much easier to find ways not to make it work then to make it work.”

Mary Beth Scow, the Democrat competing with Bell, said some of the areas already being looked at for consolidation — permitting, business licensing and purchasing — are “no-brainers.”

“Those are areas where we can make better services besides saving money,” she said. Consolidation makes sense “when we’re trying to make efficiencies, streamline services. It’s an absolute necessity in this economy.”

Scow liked Goodman’s call for a summit of governments to start the work.

“But I think that by doing some digging and some research, there are some areas where we can save a lot of money,” Scow said.

The discussion is not new, and many government functions have been consolidated or coordinated locally.

Fourteen school districts combined to create the Clark County district known today. The Las Vegas Police Department and the Clark County sheriff’s office merged in 1973, and there have been previous efforts to combine Las Vegas and Clark County.

The Southern Nevada Regional Planning Commission coordinates planning for transportation, parks and public safety. Las Vegas and Clark County share a library district, and they recently merged their housing authorities with Henderson and North Las Vegas.

Contact Alan Choate at or 702-229-6435.