Future uncertain for North Las Vegas business licensing department

North Las Vegas’ business licensing department is fighting for its life.

The agency is in the midst of a major overhaul, part of an internal review that will see it adopt more than a dozen new policies and procedures or face absorption by their counterparts at the city of Las Vegas.

Department officials are already hard at work on several changes meant to avoid that outcome by adopting licensing, payment and processing procedures recently enacted by Las Vegas while streamlining site inspection and online application processes to save North Las Vegas up to $1.8 million annually.

Increases on existing fees and expanded field compliance efforts may make up the lion’s share of that new revenue.

New auditing procedures and civil license fees for banks and storage warehouses are expected to net the city about $400,000 above costs associated with hiring an auditor and promoting a pair of existing city licensing employees.

City employees will have to earn that pay bump, taking on new code compliance responsibilities and a grab bag of unfamiliar rules.

Those growing pains would be a small price to pay for saving the city’s five business licensing employees from a full-blown merger with Las Vegas’ 30-member department.

“We’d lose $240,000 if they took us over and we adopted their city codes,” said North Las Vegas Community Development and Compliance Director Greg Blackburn. “Between that and the $250,000 in IT difficulties it would create, it’s just more cost effective to preserve our own business licensing function.”

Department upgrades announced by Blackburn in front of shared services committee members on Thursday will return for a final round of board scrutiny later this month. Committee recommendations on the department’s fate are set for final approval by both city councils in late May.

This week’s proposed business licensing overhaul counts as the first substantive action to emerge from a preliminary cost and service sharing agreement unveiled by city officials in October.

The 11-member shared services committee behind the move was tasked with digging up efficiencies in business licensing and 10 other municipal agencies targeted under the fall arrangement. It had canceled nearly as many meetings as it held prior to Thursday’s meeting.

Blackburn’s blueprint for standardizing business licensing practices comes nearly two months after the topic last surfaced during public shared services talks. Part of a Jan. 23 meeting focused primarily on collaborative opportunities in the cities’ purchasing departments.

Carole Vilardo, Nevada Taxpayers Association president and committee member, said the idea of joining forces in business licensing didn’t really pick up steam until staff from both cities met for a pair of closed door “workshops” on the topic late last month.

Later this month, Vilardo and other committee members hope to explore potential consolidation efforts at some of North Las Vegas’ other severely understaffed departments, including redevelopment and economic development.

Officials haven’t said whether they would support merging those departments with Las Vegas, a move that could save North Las Vegas millions in annual operations costs.

Las Vegas stands to earn a $150,000 one-time stipend under a proposed economic development and redevelopment agency merger. The city also would also pick up 25 percent of new business revenues generated in North Las Vegas by a post-merger economic development team over the next 10 years.

“Redevelopment and economic development will save (Las Vegas) some money, and that’s coming up later this month,” said North Las Vegas shared services consultant Thom Reilly. “Some (North Las Vegas) employees might be terminated. Some might be rehired. But the idea is that they need a jump start before eventually taking over those responsibilities again.”

Shared services committee members plan to reconvene at 3 p.m. March 20 at North Las Vegas City Hall, 2250 Las Vegas Blvd. North.

Contact reporter James DeHaven at 702-477-3839 or jdehaven@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDeHaven.