Deal looms for costly Clark County-health district legal battle

An end appears to be in sight to the nearly three-year legal feud between Clark County and the Southern Nevada Health District.

To reach this point, each government agency has spent six-figure sums of taxpayer money on attorney fees.

County and health district officials have agreed to a proposed settlement to end two lawsuits that began in 2011. The lawsuits, started by the health district, centered on its right to own property under state law and its effort to obtain a bigger slice of property tax revenue from the county.

Before the spat started, the health district had leased its headquarters from the county. But it moved out of its downtown headquarters at 625 Shadow Lane suddenly in April 2012, citing concerns about the property’s structural safety.

Under the settlement, the county no longer objects to the health district’s ownership of property. A District Court judge had backed the county’s position, and the health district had appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court. That appeal will be dropped with the agreement.

County commissioners will vote on the settlement Tuesday. The health district’s board will vote March 27.

The settlement potentially clears the way for the health district to own property if it decides to pursue additional facilities. But it’s unclear if that will happen.

Las Vegas Councilman Bob Beers, a member of the health district’s board, said its current location, 330 S. Valley View Blvd., has a lease and officials will need to discuss what to do before it expires July 31, 2015.

“We’ll have to either renew the lease or find a new building,” Beers said.

Under the settlement, the health district will withdraw its pursuit of $3 million in interest it claimed the county owed it. Following a judge’s order, the county paid it $16.2 million in June. A judge awarded the district additional funding in interest, which the county appealed.

The settlement means that the county doesn’t owe the health district any more money, and the county will not object to any efforts the health district makes in pursuing real property.

Settlement talks have stretched out and included offers from the county to build the health district a facility. Under these terms, the county doesn’t have any involvement with the health district’s facilities efforts.

“I’m very pleased we are able to reach a resolution that works, in my opinion, well for both parties and it’s long overdue,” County Manager Don Burnette said.

The county has no plans for the vacant building and property that the health district left, which will require a half-million-dollar asbestos abatement before it can be razed.

The legal costs for the lawsuit tied to property ownership alone have reached $276,323.81, public records show.

The county’s legal bills have reached $109,754.92, and the health district’s costs have reached $166,568.89, according to figures they provided in February.

“Both entities were spending money on lawyers and now they can stop, which is a positive thing for taxpayers,” Beers said.

Health district spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore declined comment, saying its lawyer has advised staff not to as the board hasn’t voted on the agreement yet.

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin @reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.