Residents generally don’t think about the police until they’re waiting for the police.
Drivers usually don’t think about street maintenance until they hit a pothole.
Henderson’s city leaders are asking residents to think about those things and more, and to review a report that was presented to the City Council on Tuesday.
The Special Budget Ad Hoc Committee report recommends that the city take some hard, and what could be unpopular, steps to bridge a $2 million annual operating shortfall and a $17 million annual infrastructure shortfall. The council directed the city staff to review the report and return with recommendations in the next few months.
City Manager Jacob Snow said the issues raised and recommendations made in the report concern “crumbling infrastructure.”
“That’s what a majority of the time (by the committee) was spent on,” Snow told the City Council. “It’s a $17 million capital deficit. It’s infrastructure.”
Councilman John Marz said the city has the reserves to continue to cover the operating shortfall for a few years, but the infrastructure needs will become the “elephant in the room someday.”
“In two or three years from now, if we don’t address (the infrastructure deficit) now, we could have one devastating thing happen in public works … then we’d really be in a position where we had to make drastic changes in how we do business,” Marz said.
The report did not address city staff pay, any potential cuts or union issues.
Recommendations include cutting some city services, raising some parks and recreation usage fees and reducing hours, and increasing property taxes as much as 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The city’s property tax rate of 71 cents, which is lower than Las Vegas ($1.06) and North Las Vegas ($1.16), has been unchanged since 1991.
The city can raise the property tax 3 cents this year. A larger increase would have to come from a vote of the residents due to a 2005 state law that caps annual property tax increases. Other than the vote, the state Legislature would have to remove the cap, something Hafen told the Review-Journal in November he supports.
City Chief Financial Officer Richard Derrick said the reason the City Council asked for the ad hoc committee was to find new ideas to bridge these financial gaps.
“We’re so deep in this hole now, we’re looking for options and alternatives,” Derrick said. “What are some alternatives and scenarios for the future.”
STREET AND FLEET NEEDS
The city oversees 822 miles of pavement that are suffering from a $3.4 million annual maintenance shortfall. In his report to the ad hoc committee, Public Works Director Bob Murnane estimates the city will need to invest $69.4 million during the next 10 years to maintain its roads, with the bulk of that coming from gas tax funds. The rest will need to come from Henderson.
The city has almost 150,000 traffic signs, 30,000 street lights and 160 signalized intersections within its limits. The annual budget shortfall for maintenance there is $675,000.
Public works oversees the city’s fleet of nearly 1,400 vehicles, which includes police cruisers, firetrucks and ambulances. Replacement needs are estimated at $99.7 million over the next 10 years, with a $5.9 million annual shortfall for fleet maintenance.
“The $5.9 million annual deficit represents the shortfall that is needed for fleet maintenance, vehicle replacement and other capital needs such as equipment and fuel tanks that are deteriorating and reaching the end of their useful life,” public works spokesman Keith Paul said.
“Our shop is also desperately in need of update and repair. Since we are unable to build a new facility because of funding constraints, we are looking to do some remodel improvements to consolidate our parts and make our welding and tire shop up-to-date and more efficient.”
Paul said he is extending the life of its current fleet by an average of 2.25 years. The city has deferred replacement of 62 police vehicles, five police motorcycles, five firetrucks and three ambulances, according to Paul. The cost of replacing a fully outfitted police vehicle is approximately $40,000, a police motorcycle $25,000, an ambulance $250,000 and a firetruck $700,000, according to the city.
Committee Chairman Tim Brooks said the 21-member committee knew its recommendations, which were decided upon unanimously, could draw scrutiny and criticism.
“We also knew that most of our fellow citizens are not fully aware of the tremendous challenges our community faces in order to sustain the great value, services and a quality of life they receive here,” said Brooks, who owns the Emerald Island Casino downtown.
Committee facilitator Thom Reilly warned the council Tuesday that continuing not to address infrastructure needs only will become more costly for the city and will cause “drastic changes in the way you do business” later.
While emergency response times and infrastructure maintenance in Henderson have yet to reach levels of immediate concern, the city’s ability to be as proactive as in the past has decreased as various tax revenues have declined during the past few years, according to city leaders.
Overall, public safety accounts for 54.1 percent of the city’s $219.1 million projected general fund budget ending June 30. The property tax accounted for 25.8 percent of general fund revenues this year. Those revenues have dropped from a high of $85.7 million in 2009 to an estimated $58.5 million this year, the lowest since 2005. The general fund’s ending balance is projected at $17.9 million, down from $31.2 million in 2008.
Consolidated taxes — which include gas and sales taxes — rebounded slightly to $86.3 million from $81.1 million in 2013. But those numbers are still below the $92.5 million realized in 2008. Consolidated taxes make up 41.5 percent of this year’s general fund.
The Police Department’s share of the general fund is 36.1 percent, while the Fire Department accounts for 18 percent of the general fund expenditures.
POLICE, FIRE CHALLENGES
While the city has not experienced the population growth during the downturn that it did in prior years, it still has grown by nearly 16,000 people since 2008 to nearly 276,000 estimated this year.
But while more people live in Henderson, the police force has seen its sworn officer ranks drop from approximately 380 to 327, which is an officer-to-citizen ratio of 1.2 per 1,000 residents. Police Chief Patrick Moers said the city would like to have 1.7 per 1,000 residents, which is still lower than the FBI’s national standard of 2.5.
Moers said the decrease in staffing levels forced a decrease in specialized assignments — traffic, community policing, investigations, SWAT — to keep the number of police on the streets the same.
“The citizens don’t see it on the front end,” Moers said. “When they call a cop, they get a cop. But on the back end, when you want additional traffic enforcement or you want your case to be followed up on, that suffers. The past couple of years, we had all those officers in proactive roles, and crime was still going down over the past couple of years. Last year, all the crime trends are going back up because now we’ve bottomed out. Now we don’t have those proactive efforts anymore.”
Total crimes reported in Henderson jumped 7.3 percent in 2012 from the prior year, and response times to high-priority calls are 6.78 minutes, higher than the city’s goal of 6 minutes.
Moers said the city’s crime lab, which is housed in a building the city acquired, needs to be modernized. New equipment was purchased through a $1 million grant, but more is needed.
“The ability to process our own drugs, our own alcohol samples, is huge for us,” Moers said. “Otherwise we have to depend on the county.”
Manpower issues also face the Fire Department, which hasn’t had any additional personnel since 2007 and hasn’t opened a new fire station since 2002, when the city had 80,000 fewer residents. Service calls have increased 18 percent since 2009. The department, however, has decreased the average response time from 7 minutes, 47 seconds in 2008 to 6 minutes, 50 seconds in 2012.
Fire Chief Steven Goble said the goal is to have a four-minute travel time to any call. One of the biggest concerns for the city is in rural west Henderson, where future residential and industrial development is planned. Currently, the department’s nine stations cover an average of nearly 12 square miles, with the closest fire station to the rural west area on Coronado Center and Horizon Ridge Parkway.
Goble said optimal coverage area would be six to eight square miles for a fire station.
“Our needs are on the resource side,” Goble said. “Our folks do a good job of managing the calls. We have our concerns about the distant geographic areas. The problem isn’t getting smaller, the problem’s getting bigger.”
Brooks said it was the Oct. 16 presentation to the committee by Moers and Goble that impressed upon him the city’s growing public safety needs.
“Those are services I just take for granted,” Brooks said. “If the time comes, God forbid, I ever need the police or I need the Fire Department, I’m personally willing to pay a little to guarantee they’re going to be there when I need them.”
Councilwoman Gerri Schroder said the city now wants to hear from its residents on what they want to see or can do without because the decisions the five-member City Council are going to make will affect the 270,000 people living in Henderson.
“I know everybody says, ‘Don’t raise our taxes.’ That’s an easy thing to say, but that’s not a solution,” Schroder said. “I’d like to hear some solutions from our residents also, because I believe they can be part of the solution.”
Schroder emphasized that the report was about addressing infrastructure needs, not more money to give raises or bargaining with union employees.
“We’re not asking to put money in our pockets,” Schroder said. “These recommendations are to ensure the lifestyle of the people who live here.”
Henderson has the second lowest employee-to-resident ratio in Clark County at 6.8 employees per 1,000 residents. Las Vegas has 8.4, and Boulder City operates at 9.5. Financially troubled North Las Vegas has dropped to below 6.4 after a series of layoffs and position cuts.
Henderson officials said they have cut $127 million citywide since 2008, including a reduction in non-public safety staff by 16 percent and a reduction in non-union compensation by 6 percent to 11 percent. In 2010, the city eliminated cost-of-living increases, and all city employees agreed to concessions equal to 2 percent of pay last year.
The report is available at www.reviewjournal.com. There is also a link to Contact Henderson on the page to leave feedback with the city. Feedback on the report can be left with the city at 702-267-1829.
Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at email@example.com or 702-477-3882. Follow him on Twitter @KnightlyGrind.