The Las Vegas landscape is littered with monuments to the empires built by elected and appointed government officials. Nevada State College. The Clark County Government Center. UNLV's dental school. The Clark County School District's administrative headquarters. Plans for a new City Hall and Las Vegas police headquarters are moving forward.
But deluxe digs are only part of the problem. The ongoing costs of the work forces that fill them are the real legacy of expanded government services the taxpaying masses somehow did without for all those decades before.
One of the valley's better examples of an unneeded yet indestructible bureaucracy is the Clark County park police. The force was created in 1991, ostensibly to provide an additional measure of public safety in county-maintained open spaces. In reality, it was just another union payroll expansion.
The department costs $2.8 million a year and includes 16 officers. But if an actual crime happens at a county park, Las Vegas police are called in to investigate. What's the point?
With county government confronting a $200 million revenue shortfall next fiscal year, and elected commissioners conceding that layoffs are inevitable, might the park police finally go away (as recommended by a county advisory panel)? At a minimum, would two vacant park police positions be eliminated as a first step toward disbanding this small bureaucracy?
Of course not. On Tuesday, commissioners approved a plan that will make Las Vegas police responsible for all calls at 60 percent of the county's 1,200 acres of park space, and all after-hours calls at all parks. The park police officers will handle minor disturbances at 40 percent of county parks.
Park police have complained for years that they're overworked and understaffed. In reality, they're an expensive duplication of service that enjoys a great deal of political protection. Who else in this valley would complain about their workload in this economy and be rewarded with a 60 percent reduction in responsibility -- and no commensurate pay cut?
County officials are bemoaning the supposedly tough fiscal choices they face, yet they can't ax an office no one will miss? Clark County will never hit its budget reduction targets through increased cooperation and duty sharing. Eventually, it's going to have to blow up parts of the empire built over the past 20 years.
If officials don't, they'll never be able to convince an increasingly cynical public that the county's budget has been cut to the bone.