The city of Las Vegas wants to know what residents think of the municipal government. It’s asking taxpayers to complete its Las Vegas Community Survey, by mail or online, to help establish budgeting and service priorities and determine perceptions of the city.
But what the long survey doesn’t ask says everything about the bureaucracy’s preferences — and the critical policy issues the city most definitely doesn’t want polled.
The survey begins about as you would expect. Participants are asked to rate their overall satisfaction with various city services, including sewer, fire, parks, police and street maintenance, then rate them by importance. Participants are asked to assess their overall quality of life, the quality of their neighborhood and the direction the city is headed.
On and on the survey continues. Do you feel safe in your neighborhood? How easily can you get around by car, bike or foot? Does the city do enough to promote economic development and diversity in the community?
A single question addresses city funding and spending. The survey asks participants to rate the overall value they receive for their tax dollars and fees.
No questions address specific city taxes and fees and whether they should be raised or reduced. Participants aren’t asked whether any services should be eliminated. No questions address the city’s largest single expense: payroll and employee benefits. No questions address the budget deficits that are projected to run years into the future.
These are notable omissions, considering some City Council members, including Mayor Carolyn Goodman, have publicly championed new and higher taxes. In April, city management briefed the council on its ability to raise property taxes and fees for courts, business licenses, inspections and parking. The parks department has been directed to grab more money from the public. Does the council want public feedback before it considers specific increases? Apparently not.
Meanwhile, the city’s personnel costs continue their relentless march upward. After a pause brought about by the Great Recession, the pay raises have resumed for a workforce that’s already one of the highest paid in the country. According to the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s TransparentNevada website, the city of Las Vegas had 206 employees who received more than $200,000 in total compensation in 2012; 435 others who received more than $150,000; and 1,015 more who received at least $100,000. Some of these employees are eligible to retire and collect full taxpayer-funded pensions after as few as 20 years of work. Is the struggling public, who can only dream of retirement in old age, in favor of continuing such a structure? The city doesn’t want to know.
Considering only 10 percent of Las Vegas voters bothered to cast ballots in this year’s spring municipal election, should the city consolidate its ballot with the state’s to boost turnout and save money? The council doesn’t want to know.
City residents are paying to avoid asking themselves the tough questions they need answered. And the results are already rigged.